On the Beat: The perfect birthday gift for Nick Saban could be CFP committee making Clemson No. 1

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As a member of the media contingency that covers the University of Alabama football program, I’d like to openly solicit my expertise to vermin-killing services.

In case you missed it over the weekend, Alabama’s 27-19 victory at Texas A&M will not be remembered for the Crimson Tide struggling through part of the second half, or the Aggies scoring a touchdown with 17 seconds remaining to make it a one-score game.

It will be known for Nick Saban calling all the positive talk in the media the equivalent of being “rat poison” to his team.

What can I say? Tomcat, d-CON, I’m available. I’d be a great spokesman. I’d do it with zeal and even put your logo on my laptop.

Saban’s statement during a postgame news conference was a quite a departure, although reporters are used to being called rats, or worse, by everyone from the President on down. It comes with the territory. No matter what’s said or done, there are millions of people on the Internet ready to scream that he or she is a moron.

But Saban did identify the one thing that he’s been continually fighting against during this dynasty run — yes, more rat poison. That’s keeping his team focused week in, week out.

“It’s kind of hard not to see that stuff, even if you don’t look into it or look that hard for it,” junior offensive lineman Ross Pierschbacher said. “Even if you pull up Facebook, it’s right there. Everyone’s sharing it or whatnot. So you see the headlines.

“A lot of guys, it affects them differently.”

After pulling off the football equivalent of an extermination at Vanderbilt, 59-0, Alabama didn’t execute as well against Ole Miss despite Saban playing the “quiet disrespect” card. It still won 66-3, only to learn at Texas A&M that things are only going to get tougher from here on out.

If anything, Alabama was overdue for a letdown.

“I hope people can look at this game and see how did they advance themselves in terms of the way they played? Is this a game that you would tell everybody, ‘Yeah, watch me in this game because I really played well?’ If you can’t say that, then you should take a real look in the mirror and say, ‘What do I need to do to get better here?’ ” Saban said.

“I do think sometimes when things don’t go well, people are a little more willing to respond. I’m hopeful that our team will respond well in this circumstance.”

Regardless, the mental challenge will continue as long as Alabama is in the national title picture, which has been all but three games since 2008, and Saban will continue to push whatever buttons he can. He’ll have the benefit of facing a rival, Tennessee, next week, and trying to lock up the SEC West title in November.

But look at the College Football Playoff in its albeit brief history. The No. 1 team has yet to win the trophy. In 2014, Alabama went in seeded first and with the attitude of “We’ve got this,” only to be promptly sent home by Ohio State. Last season the team didn’t look the same after the SEC Championship Game and came up short again.

What Alabama has been doing is unprecedented, not just with the championships won, but because no team has tried to carry the extra burden of being No. 1 quite like this.

Let’s be clear: It is a burden. It’s a such a burden that no program has ever had a decade like the one Alabama just experienced. It’s been ranked No. 1 at some point in every season since 2008, and Saban already has the record for most games coaching a top-ranked team (57). He knows better than anyone that it’s harder to win the title when that’s what is expected.

CFP trophy-College Football Playoff
It’s a lot easier to win the CFP trophy when the pressure is on the other team. (Corey Knapp/SEC Country)

Only once has Saban had a team run the table — 2009 — and it started the season ranked fifth in the AP poll. The last team in college football to go wire to wire at No. 1 was Southern California in 2004, but that championship has since been vacated.

Even Alabama has been a lot more successful when not carrying the burden of being No. 1. In 2009, Florida was considered the team to beat until the Crimson Tide knocked off Tim Tebow & Co. in the SEC Championship Game and became the new king of the hill.

In 2011, LSU had won the Game of the Century and the following season all the attention was on Notre Dame. In 2015, Ohio State was thought to be the team to beat. After losing to Ole Miss, Alabama dropped all the way to No. 12 (and was No. 13 the following week), and Clemson was the top-seeded team.

YEAR PRESEASON FINISH
 2008 24 6
 2009 5 1
 2010 1 10
 2011 2 1
 2012 2 1
 2013 1 7
 2014 2 4
 2015 3 1
 2016 1 2
 2017 1 ?

This isn’t to suggest that Saban secretly wants his team to lose. The sting of a defeat is something that irritates him to no end, not just for a season, but forever. For example, last week he was asked to reflect on facing Joe Tiller at Purdue and he called Boilermakers quarterback Drew Brees “our nemesis at Michigan State.”

It wasn’t an exaggeration. Saban’s still upset about those losses from the last century (the 1990s).

“As a coach, you always want to see your team play well,” Saban said about the Texas A&M win. “I think we got punched in the nose a little bit, especially when we fumbled the ball and they scored a touchdown and the crowd got into the game and they got the momentum.

“I think it’s important that your team learns how to respond to that.”

What Saban should want, and will probably never say publicly, is for another team to take the mantle for a while this season. It would ease some of the pressure on the players while adding motivation galore for the rest of the season. The “rat poison” would be one less distraction.

He might get it, too. On Oct. 31, Saban’s 66th birthday, the first of the six weekly CFP rankings will be unveiled. Alabama may by No. 1 in the current polls, but the committee could easily reward reigning champion Clemson.

Alabama should hope it does.

The post On the Beat: The perfect birthday gift for Nick Saban could be CFP committee making Clemson No. 1 appeared first on SEC Country.

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