TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron offers a primer for what it takes to fit in with the top-ranked Crimson Tide football team.
For starters, don’t fixate on the shot at a historic three-peat, BCS-or-bust expectations or the anointment by pollsters as the team to beat.
It’s all about Virginia Tech, taking it one game at a time, staying focused and all the other cliches that get trotted out in the football building each year about this time. In short, ignore what coach Nick Saban puts under the “external factors” umbrella.
“I feel like if you don’t think that way, you’re kind of irrelevant a little to the team,” McCarron said Monday. “Everybody needs to have the same mindset. We can’t worry about what everybody thinks, what everybody’s predicting. Just go out and play the game and take one play at a time, one game at a time and we’ll be all right.”
That starts Saturday in Atlanta with the Hokies, who are coming off a 7-6 season.
But hard as the coaches and players try to ignore it, the Tide is aiming to make history. Major college football has had repeat national champs 10 times since the first AP poll in 1936. None, however, has made it three in a row and none has gone wire-to-wire at No. 1 since USC in 2004.
But Alabama has the expectations born of winning 49 games and three national titles the last four seasons. The exception was a 2010 team that opened at No. 1 and lost a whopping — by the Tide’s current standards — three times.
Right or wrong, that season became an oft-cited example of what can happen if a team buys into the hype.
“It’s an example but we’ve been preaching that for years now,” McCarron said. “We can’t worry about it. That was a different team then and it’s a different team now. Got different players and different mindsets among the team as individuals. We’ve got to focus on our goal this year, our purpose to be out there. You don’t really win the game on Saturday. You win it every day before that.”
Once again, Alabama has a chance to make a statement early. The Tide has played a ranked team from a BCS conference other than the SEC in the first or second game each of the past five seasons and won all of them. The closest call was when fifth-ranked Alabama beat No. 7 Virginia Tech 34-24 to start the 2009 title season, including a 41-14 rout of No. 8 Michigan last year in Arlington, Texas.
The Hokies aren’t ranked but Saban calls them a “good all-around team.”
This time the Tide has back-to-back potential statement games, counting the Sept. 14 visit to No. 7 Texas A&M after an open date.
Saban has had few public gripes about his team’s attitude or focus during preseason camp, a good sign with a coach who’s not given to sugarcoating. Monday he praised the team’s work ethic and the way the leadership is developing.
It helps that senior leaders McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley also happen to be two of the better players.
The word “complacency” has likely been heard far more around the football building than “three-peat.” How often?
“You don’t want to say too many times because that’s a pretty complacent answer,” tight end Brian Vogler said. “It’s definitely an emphasis that we’re focusing on. We really want to focus everything we have on getting our best potential out there.”
To Saban, that means concentrating on winning, not past successes.
“There’s no external factors that matter at all to any player on our team,” he said. “It’s all about how they perform in this game. It’s not what they did last year, it’s not about the girlfriend, it’s not about anything but playing this game. None of it means anything unless you make it mean something.”