This is my story for today’s print editions:
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — By Monday morning, talk of Alabama vaulting back into the national title race remained on campus.
The top half of the student newspaper, The Crimson White, included coverage of the mass celebration on The Strip after national championship contenders Kansas State and Oregon lost Saturday night. The headline: “… And chaos ensued.”
But most of their football-playing classmates didn’t join the scene. While others might check online for hotel space in Miami, the site of the BCS National Championship Game, Alabama’s players say they’re thinking only of Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Auburn.
“It’s college football,” said Crimson Tide senior Robert Lester, who added he watched Saturday night’s games. “Just like last year, crazy things are going to happen. Crazy things are going to happen next year. The only thing we need to worry about right now is to play our football and not worry about what’s going on outside Alabama.”
That’s the message coming from Alabama head coach Nick Saban, too.
“Unless we win the next game, we don’t have another game,” Saban said. “We’re trying to work our way into a conversation by how we play.”
Mention the BCS around Saban and you likely will get shut down. He won’t even talk about the SEC Championship Game. After all, as he pointed out, Alabama needs to beat Auburn to clinch a spot in that game.
“Everybody in this organization needs to understand that we’re dismissing all talk about anything except playing Auburn,” Saban said. “The Iron Bowl is a big deal. It’s a legendary game that people remember for a long, long time and still talk about games that happened in the past, had huge impacts and effects on the future of what happened.
“And they’re traditionally very, very tough games. It’s important that we play our best game.”
Alabama began working Sunday afternoon on Auburn plans, and during a team meeting, Tide defensive end Damion Square stood and talked about how the Tide could fall victim to an upset just as easily as Kansas State and Oregon did.
Now, few players are willing to admit they even paid attention to Saturday night’s games, as Lester said he did.
Offensive guard Chance Warmack said he was asleep in his dorm room, relaxing after Alabama’s 49-0 win over Western Carolina earlier in the day.
“I had just woke up,” he said. “Somebody was like, ‘Hey, watch television.’ I was like, ‘Oh, for real?’ So I clicked on and watched it. But at the same time you can’t really control what happens. You’ve got to stay focused on the task at hand – and that’s Auburn.”
While fans may look at how Alabama is favored by 31.5 points to win Saturday, that’s now how some Tide players are looking at it, especially those who played in the 2010 Iron Bowl loss at home.
“Actually, I have a bet with a friend that I went to high school with every year that if we win, he has to take a picture in Alabama gear, and if we lose, I have to take a picture in Auburn gear,” Lester said.
Then he added in carefully spoken words: “And I do not like dressing up in orange and blue.”