It’s a statistic that catches the eye and is approaching an all-time record, but Alabama’s 71-straight wins over unranked teams didn’t happen by accident. Nick Saban rooted his philosophy and “The Process” to protect against such things.
A quick look around the landscape of college football shows you how rare Alabama’s ability to focus week in and week out really is.
Six top 10 teams (Clemson, Oklahoma, Washington, Michigan, Washington State and Auburn) lost in the last two weeks, five of which did so to unranked teams. Last weekend, No. 2 Clemson lost to Syracuse, No. 5 Washington lost to Arizona State, No. 8 Washington State lost to Cal and No. 10 Auburn fell to LSU.
When Alabama players showed up to practice Monday, they already knew what to expect. The message went hand in hand to what the Crimson Tide players live every day.
“Coach Saban always preaches to us that it’s about us, not about the other team,” middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said. “No matter who you play, you can only control what you can control. It just shows any team can beat, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday in college football, so you’d better come ready to play.”
The simplicity of The Process is the opponent isn’t really considered. Sure, the game plan is tailored to the personnel of the other team, but Saban’s message to each player is to play to a standard, which doesn’t take into account the opposition’s skill level — good or bad.
Playing your best every play doesn’t require you to consider the opponent. You’re playing to the standard you’ve created for yourself.
That’s why Saban doesn’t entertain questions about his team being big favorites, like this weekend against Tennessee.
“I think that’s the challenge,” Saban said. “Not to belabor or beat a dead horse, but the rat poison that we talked about, the external factors that are out there that talks about what you all talk about. Like they have all these problems so we can just show up, flip the coin and I don’t even know why we’re going to play the game because of all the assumptions that get made. Well, if our players think that way, how are they going to play? Are they going to play to the standard that they need to play to? That’s the challenge.
“When you listen to Washington State’s coach talk after the game, that’s what he’s talking about. You have to give the other team credit. You have to respect the opponent and you have to play to a high standard all the time. That’s the challenge. And I think what people don’t understand is it’s not the human condition to be that way. The human condition is to survive. That’s how we all got here. That’s how we all started. That’s what we all want to do. It isn’t to be the best you can be and to win the championship. That’s special. So, to get a group of people to be special all the time in every situation with all the noise and external factors and all the stuff that’s out there, it’s a real challenge.
“And that’s why people in the top 10 get beat every week and that’s what we’re trying to avoid by trying to have the right physiological disposition to do what we have to play at a high standard regardless of what anybody else’s circumstances are and to try to block out all the noise that gets created…”