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Saban understands Leach's 'pathetic front-runners' comment

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

By JOHN ZENOR

AP Sports Writer

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Alabama coach Nick Saban totally gets where Washington State's Mike Leach was coming from.

Leach bluntly assessed his team as "a bunch of pathetic front-runners" after the then-No. 8 Cougars lost 37-3 to California last week .

The top-ranked Crimson Tide have mostly been very good front-runners under Saban, and they'll have that role again Saturday as five-touchdown favorites against struggling Tennessee.

Saban believes it can present a different kind of challenge for a coach when observers are not giving the other team much of a chance. Players read the chatter on social media and see it on TV.

To Saban, Leach was referring to playing to a standard regardless of the opponent.

"You've got to respect your opponent and you've got to play to a high standard all the time, and that's the challenge," Saban said. "I think what people don't really understand is the human condition is for everybody to survive. That's how we all got here, that's how we all started, that's what we want to do. It wasn't be the best you can be to win a championship. That's special.

"To get a group of people to be special all the time, in every situation, with all the noise and external factors and all the stuff that's out there, it's a real challenge. And that's why people in the top 10 get beat every week."

The talk from outside the Tide's cloistered bunker can present a weekly challenge until the next big game comes up.

Three top 10 teams fell to unranked opponents last weekend, including No. 2 Clemson to Syracuse and No. 10 Auburn to LSU. Alabama, meanwhile, dispatched Arkansas 41-9 .

Three other ranked teams lost to teams outside the Top 25 and a half dozen won by a single score. So if Saban needs fodder to prove his point, he has plenty of fresh material. But probably no other college team is more accustomed to dealing with it than the Crimson Tide.

When the Volunteers arrive in Tuscaloosa, it will mark Saban's 58th game coaching an Alabama team ranked No. 1. He's 51-6 in those contests so far.

Nobody else has won more than 40 games with one school when it took the field as the No. 1 team in the country. Sure, the Tide has been upset a few times - twice in the last four seasons by Mississippi, in fact - but Saban's teams have also beaten 72 consecutive unranked opponents.

The traditional Alabama-Tennessee rivalry has been one-sided during Saban's tenure, with the Tide winning all 10 meetings.

Saban sarcastically dismisses talk about getting up for a rivalry that hasn't been particularly competitive.

"We show up and flip the coin, and I don't even know why we play the game because of all the assumptions that get made," he said. "Well, if our players think that way, how are they going to play?"

Saban called that hype "rat poison" after a 27-19 win over Texas A&M two weeks ago, and used the term again this week.

Tide players say they get constant reminders from the coaches about where their focus should be.

"Coach Saban always preaches to us that it's about us, not about the other team," linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said. "No matter who you play, you can only control what you can control. It just shows any team can beat, Thursday, Friday, or Saturday in college football, so you'd better come ready to play."

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Updated October 17, 2017

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