Alabama head coach Nick Saban has had plenty of time to perfect his pre-BCS National Championship speech after having already delivered three successful ones in the last decade. Last year’s must have been particularly effective with the 21-0 throttling of Saban’s former team, LSU, in a contest when the Tigers didn’t even pass the century mark in total yardage.
Things haven't always gone according to plan for Saban in title games, but remaining calm has been a trait of his championship teams
Notre Dame may be undefeated and ranked No. 1 heading into Monday night’s championship at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, but it’s Alabama that knows exactly what to expect when it comes to how the mind works under the most intense pressure most players will ever experience.
The Crimson Tide have an opportunity to become the first consensus back-to-back national champion since Nebraska in 1994 and ’95. Southern California shared the crown in 2003 with LSU, but the Nick Saban-coached Tigers were the ones that got to hoist the Coaches’ Trophy (more on that below). Alabama can also become the first since the Cornhuskers (1994, ’95 and a co-title with Michigan in ’97) to win three championships in a span of four years.
So, what will Saban say to his players before going after his fourth BCS National Championship?
“Well, I think what we're really always trying to accomplish is to make sure the team has a passion for the challenge that they have in front of them, and certainly we're always trying to create and make
sure that they have the right kind of psychological disposition to play with the kind of mental energy and intensity that's going to allow them to be all they can be and play their best football game.
“I think that's always the challenge as a coach. You can talk about winning all you want, but really the goal is
are our guys going to go out there, compete and play with the best of their ability, from an effort standpoint, from a toughness standpoint, from a discipline to execute standpoint, so that everybody sort of embraces their role, focuses on their role, does a good job at their role. So it gives the team the best opportunity to be successful.”
What championship teams have to be able to do is prepare for anything to happen, not panic when the game doesn’t play out as scripted and remember what got them there in the first place.
In Saban’s final season at LSU in 2003, the No. 2 Tigers entered the 2004 Sugar Bowl matchup with No. 1 Oklahoma averaging 426.54 total yards, relying on the run (187.7 yards per game) and getting bonus yardage from a conservative passing game that typically collected over 200 yards per outing. Oklahoma came up with two interceptions, so LSU turned to the running game as their life preserver, even though they came up over 30 yards short of its season average in the 21-14 victory. The Tigers needed a defensive touchdown — a 20-yard interception return by Marcus Spears — in the third quarter to hold on.
In the 2010 BCS National Championship against No. 2 Texas, Saban, back in the title game guiding top-ranked Alabama, finished the 2009 regular season averaging nearly 420 yards of total offense per game. The Tide only mustered 263 against the stingy Longhorns, which also threw Alabama for a loop on the Tide’s first possession, intercepting a botched fake punt. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy hurt his shoulder on the next play, left the game for good, and despite the Longhorns getting out to a 6-0 lead, Alabama stuck to the script and pounded the ball 51 times en route to a 37-21 victory.
Saban knows there will be some curveballs Monday night in Miami from Fighting Irish and head coach Brian Kelly, who have done a marvelous job in their own right handling strange twists in turns during the 2012 regular season. At several points Notre Dame was on the brink of seeing a championship game berth slip away, but showed grace under pressure.
“I think they have a really well conceived system,” Saban said. “I'm sure they'll do some things that are a little different in this game. We have looked at their history of what they've done at Notre Dame. But I think what Coach Kelly does probably as well as anybody that we've played all year is utilized the personnel that he has extremely well, and I think that's why they've been very, very successful.
“They have some mismatch players on offense that they've maximized their performance, and their quarterback has consistently improved throughout the season. They're a very good offensive football team with a lot of diversity, a lot of formations, a lot of variables that you have to adjust to, so we don't have to go all the way back to see that there's a very difficult preparation in front of us relative to what they do.”