Alabama is ranked number one this week in the AP poll. The Crimson Tide is 7-0, and will probably have to be 14-0 to have the number one spot in polls at the end of the season.
Coach Nick Saban, of course, is concerned about preparing his team to be 8-0 as the Crimson Tide hosts Tennessee this week. The Vols are 3-3, including a 1-2 record in Southeastern Conference games. Kickoff Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium is 2:30 p.m. CDT with national television coverage by CBS.
Although the poll question wasn’t asked, Saban had an answer for it. “Nothing has really changed for out guys,” he said. He said the rankings don’t matter, that nothing has changed from last Monday to this Monday.
“What’s changed?” he said. “We’ve got another game, this is the most important game of the year and hopefully we’re going to respond to it one of two ways: You either respond sort of avoiding pain or you respond to it to try and gain pleasure in terms of what you want to accomplish. I’m very hopeful we can stay on the positive side of it and be positive about our approach to what we’re trying to accomplish and what we’re trying to do and not get risk-aversive and start playing to keep from getting beat and a lot of negative motivation about what’s going to happen if this happens and all that kind of stuff. Not to avoid, but to gain is the way we’d like to approach it."
Saban said, "This is obviously a game coming up with Tennessee that has a special tradition in terms of their school, what they’ve been able to accomplish through the years and what Alabama has been able to accomplish through the years. Two great programs that play in a big game every year and this is certainly a challenging opportunity for our team. They are playing extremely well and they have a very good team. I think that this is probably the best team running the football that we’ve played and the strength of their team is probably their backs as well as their offensive line. (Montario) Hardesty and Bryce Brown both are really good, physical, downhill, hard runners. They play with a lot of toughness.
"These guys are extremely well coached. You know, somebody’s going to ask me something about all this other stuff, but really what it comes down to, this is a really well coached team. They’re very well coached on defense, they‘re very well coached on offense and Lane Kiffin does a really good job of that. They’re very disciplined, they don’t get a lot of penalties and they have made constant steady improvement throughout the season to play an outstanding game against Georgia. The quarterback’s better and played his best game of the year against Georgia in terms of what he was able to accomplish. Tennessee always has a lot of good skill players and they have good receivers with lots of speed and it’s going to be very challenging for us.
"Their defense is very, very good, one of the top-ranked defenses in the country. Eric Berry is maybe the best player in our conference, defensive player, in terms of his play-making ability and all the things that he does.
Absolutely phenomenal football player and he is one of the best. They’ve got some good pass rushers, their linebackers run extremely well, they’ve got very good statistics for what they’ve been able to accomplish, giving up the fewest first downs.
"And a lot of those things lead to teams that play winning football. So it‘s going to be important for us to continue to be able to execute and make improvement and it’s going to be a very challenging game for us all the way around.”
Saban said regarding the importance of the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry that he wants to be knowledgeable about the situation and circumstances around him. He said, “I tell our coaches all the time: I can take bad news, I can take good news. I hate surprises. So if you’re working here, you ought to do everything you can do not to present me with a surprise.
“We have to have knowledge of the situation and circumstance that we’re in.
“Every game is important, but I think (it’s also important) to understand what’s important to the people, the institution, the tradition that you represent. Every game is important, no game any more important than the other game. They all have a significant impact on the outcome of the season and whether you’re going to have a chance to go to the SEC Championship Game or whatever you want to talk about and this game is no different than that. But at the same time, we understand the importance to our fans, the traditions of our school, the importance of rivalry games. And they are important because of that."
Saban acknowledged the challenge of the Tennessee defense, directed by the father of Head Coach Lane Kiffin. Monte Kiffin, Saban said he first visited with Monte Kiffin when Kiffin was at Arkansas “back in the ‘70s.” and that he was making innovative moves “coordinating fronts and coverages and doing some things that nobody else had done before.
“In pro football, he sort of developed what is called ‘Tampa Two’ as a coverage way to play. That was effective for a long time. And right now at Tennessee, they probably do a combination of both of those things. He’s just a really good teacher, a really good coach, has a lot of knowledge and experience and has done a really good job this year helping their defense develop."
The name of a former Alabama assistant coach, Lance Thompson, never came up in Saban’s Monday news briefing. Thompson left Bama for Tennessee last winter in a move that generated a lot of conversation. Saban was asked, “Coach, in your experience, if there is a former assistant at a new school, how much information can that assistant really pass along that’s beyond what he might normally get on game film?”
Saban indicated he didn’t think much would come of that.