Alabama once again gets a 2nd chance at title shot
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)
Alabama players don't even have to leave their couches to be one of the big winners in college football's national championship sweepstakes.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide (10-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) has benefited the past two years from a pair of late-season upsets by other teams, proving that patience is sometimes as important as perfection.
Alabama jumped right back into win-and-in mode with Saturday night's losses by Oregon and Kansas State.
Last year, the one-loss Tide got a reprieve with Iowa State stunning Oklahoma State and Oregon toppling Stanford.
''It's college football,'' Tide safety Robert Lester said. ''Just like last year, crazy things are going to happen. Crazy things are going to happen next year. The only thing we need to worry about right now is to play our football and not worry about what's going on outside Alabama and handle it the way we need to handle it.''
What's going on inside Alabama is that rival Auburn (3-8, 0-7) visits Saturday for the Iron Bowl.
With a win, the Tide would play No. 3 Georgia for the SEC title and a chance at a second straight national championship. Alabama, which spent most of the season ranked No. 1, only needed a week to move back to the front of the line along with top-ranked Notre Dame.
The Tide was coming off a 29-24 loss to No. 9 Texas A&M. Last season, Alabama earned a rematch after losing to LSU partly thanks to the Cowboys and Cardinal finally losing.
Still, coach Nick Saban said he is focused only on the state title, a prize that's still pretty substantial in this heated rivalry.
''I just want to make everybody understands here that we're not in any conversations about anything other than the game that we're playing,'' Saban said Monday. ''Unless we win the next game, we don't have another game. We're trying to work our way into a conversation by how we play. We're not trying to hold a position. We're trying to create one by what we do and how we play.
''Everybody in this organization needs to understand that we're dismissing all talk about anything except playing Auburn.''
Not every Tide player said they were glued to the TV Saturday night hoping for a helping hand or two and celebrating the upsets.
''I think somebody sent a message to me on Facebook,'' linebacker Nico Johnson said. ''Other than that, what came across my mind was, `We've got an opportunity, but we can't look past the team we have this week.' We kind of got ahead of ourselves the Texas A&M game. It showed what happened. Now we understand that. We learned from that lesson. Now we've got to stay focused on us and control what we do and worry about Auburn this week.''
Johnson said defensive end Damion Square reminded the players of that after their run on Sunday that: ''We can't overlook our opponent. Never.''
The reality is, an Auburn win would be a bigger upset than Baylor over Kansas State or Stanford beating Oregon. Alabama is a 31.5-point favorite over the Tigers.
Still, last weekend's upsets took care of two of the teams standing in Alabama's way.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley said the Tide can't lose sight of the other two teams that will actually line up against them before a national championship shot can come.
''I'm glad that it happened, but if we don't win these next two games, all that really doesn't matter,'' Mosley said. ''So we're back in the picture for it, but that's really not what I'm worried about. We've got these two games coming up. They ought to be big for us. We've got a chance to do something good. We've got to make sure we take advantage of it.''
Saban said teams can get ''emotionally stressed out'' when the stakes of the games are so high. He's trying to keep that from happening to the Tide.
''You're worrying emotionally, which affects your ability to focus and you don't play as well,'' Saban said. ''None of these things are bad things. There's nobody taking anybody out and shooting them behind the barn because we've got an opportunity to play in this game. We've got an opportunity to play in this game and maybe another game, that's a good thing. That's something that everybody worked hard to create. You know, be positive. It's what great competitors love to do, go compete and play your best games. Don't get emotionally stressed out or start playing to keep from getting beat and be tentative about your approach to what you're doing.
''I think it did happen to us and it probably happened to some other people. That's what we try to guard against.''