TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — One of the hallmarks of Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama is getting his team to treat everyone on the schedule as a “faceless” opponent.
As cliche as it sounds, it’s one of the biggest reasons Alabama doesn’t lose to unranked opponents, well ever. After his first year, you won’t find an Iowa or Purdue or Syracuse-type loss on Saban’s resume. Alabama has lost 14 games in the past 10-plus seasons, and every loss was against a top 20 team.
No. 6 Auburn
No. 2 Clemson
No. 15 Ole Miss
No. 11 Ole Miss
No. 4 Ohio State
No. 4 Auburn
No. 11 Oklahoma
No. 15 Texas A&M
No. 2 Auburn
No. 4 Florida
With there being no opponent this week, that gives Alabama an opportunity to focus on their biggest opponent: themselves.
Top-ranked Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) is off this weekend as a top-5 showdown against LSU (7-1, 4-1 SEC) on Nov. 3. The winner will have the inside track to locking up the SEC West.
But that will have to wait as Alabama works on improving itself.
“We’re for sure, for sure not going to look ahead and look at all the stuff that we’ll eventually have to,” said Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams. “The bye week is huge for — getting the mental errors right, getting the mistakes that we did right and just building on ourselves right now. This week we’re going into like a faceless opponent basically, just like we basically got to beat ourselves.
“We’re going to go against the offense just like we’re playing against LSU or Auburn. And the offense is going to go at us like they’re playing LSU or Auburn. So that’s the kind of week we’re going into.”
Alabama sits atop the college football world again with a dominant offense and a bend-but-don’t-break defense. Many wonder if this team is even beatable given the current landscape of college football.
Ohio State was expected to be a challenger, but the Buckeyes were stomped by .500 Purdue, which earlier lost to Missouri. Georgia already has a loss, to LSU, erasing the possibility of an undefeated SEC Championship Game showdown.
The lone undefeateds outside of the Crimson Tide with serious title hopes are Clemson and Notre Dame. (Clemson nearly loss at home against unranked Syracuse. Notre Dame survived a huge fourth-quarter scare at home against Vanderbilt and had to rally to sneak past Pitt.)
The fact that so many top teams have lost over the course of the year has Alabama on even more of high alert.
“That’s really crazy. That’s why I said about the mistakes and mental errors,” Williams said. “You can go into a game, be the top team in the country and lose to an average team like that. So that’s why I really say mistakes and mental errors can kill a team. That’s why we really focus on the mistakes and mental errors this bye week, what we gave up in the past.”
Don’t be mistaken: Alabama knows what’s on the horizon. November is where seasons are defined. Alabama has entered the bye week at 8-0 plenty of times under Saban, but has only finished the year undefeated once.
The first part of earning another undefeated year will be taking care of LSU in two weeks. Alabama hasn’t began game planning for the Tigers just yet. They also won’t treat this game any different. Another faceless opponent in the long grind toward perfection.
“The key is you don’t approach it differently,” Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams said of a night game in Death Valley. “I think that we respect every opponent that we play, and we understand LSU is a great opponent. I’ve played in Death Valley and the atmosphere is amazing, but if you’re caught up looking at that — it takes extreme focus to be able to execute in the ways that we need to to be successful against a really talented team.
“I don’t think there’s any team in the country that’s good enough to get away with not being focused on the little things. So, if you’re looking at the stadium and worried about things like that, you’re not going to be successful.”