Football creates more than one kind of tension.
For instance, there’s the tension Butch Jones will feel on Monday morning, not knowing if his key will unlock the door to his office any more. That’s an obvious sort of tension.
But what sort of tension could Alabama football be having as it tears through an SEC schedule as though it were a grizzly bear in a smokehouse? How is a weekly exercise in which the opponent usually trails at halftime by more points than it could hope to score in the two remaining quarters making someone “tense?” What part of an 8-0 start prompts Nick Saban to hold what he described as a “come to Jesus” meeting last week just to dissipate the tension he had detected?
Scuffling for career survival, the way Jones is doing, has to take its toll. Losing does that to a team, and a coaching staff. But winning can do it, too.
What Saban senses with his 8-0 team is that an opportunity for greatness is there, and while it has to be unfortunate to never have that opportunity, there’s also the toll taken by having it in front of you. Saban has seen that happen before. He has seen teams, great Alabama teams, fail to finish. He’s identified the culprit in those instances: complacency. That’s the feeling that everything is cool, that all the words of praise players are hearing are real. There’s nothing “tense” about that, right?
That’s why Saban, when all else fails, makes it tense.
“We had to have a little come-to-Jesus meeting about, ‘what is this all about?,'” Saban said after the Crimson Tide’s lopsided 45-7 win. “But how do I know why we didn’t practice good (this week)? If I could tell you, I’d probably have a better job than I already have. And I have a very good job.”
If Saban thinks the tension is clear, he hasn’t shown it — and probably won’t. There’s been no legendary press conference explosion but for a couple of weeks now, you get sense his internal engine revving up, the RPM’s rising and, only at the last second, an easing up on the gas. All in all, it’s probably a good time for an open week, psychologically as well as physically.
Perhaps, when Alabama returns to action in two weeks, all the outside distraction, or at least the worst of it, will have taken care of itself. There should be no more games (Mercer excepted) where Alabama is a 35-point favorite, no more weeks where the running joke is about whether the scoreboard will short circuit.
The remaining three SEC opponents — LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn — all spent Saturday crushing the same type of conference opposition Alabama has been crushing so far. An argument can be made that they are the three toughest opponents Alabama has faced, all stacked into one daunting November. If nothing else, one can expect Saban’s patience with questions like “how do you get your team motivated for…?” to come to an end.
Alabama has the ability to win all those games, of course. But the week off has to be a sort of reboot, as curious as that sounds when you are talking about the nation’s No. 1 team. The intensity level cannot come and go any more. Yes, that can be a source of tension — but if this team can’t self-motivate, or can’t hit a level of consistency based on the level of competition — there might be more to worry about than whose turn it is to buy the victory cigars.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225