July 19, 2013 12:01:41 PM
HOOVER, Ala. -- Nick Saban is as hard to distract as he is to beat.
Ask the University of Alabama coach what winning a third straight national title would mean, and he wonders why he'd waste brain juice thinking about it. Compare him to Bear Bryant, and he swiftly dismisses such talk -- though it isn't sounding so farfetched these days.
The Crimson Tide's ultra-focused coach didn't let 1,000-plus reporters at Southeastern Conference Media Days change his process-oriented approach.
Three straight titles sure would be huge, huh?
"I don't think about it in that regard. I never, ever do," Saban responded before his podium address. "I think the most important thing for me to do is to get our staff, the people in our organization, our players to be as good as this team can be. Can we get them to make a commitment to a standard that is going to let them play at a high level on a consistent basis that they are capable of?
"And if we do that maybe we'll give ourselves a chance, and I think that's the goal. That's what I think about. That's what we focus on. That's what we try to get accomplished with the players."
Saban has won two straight championships and three of the last four after claiming another one at LSU. Can observers fairly say he's reaching Bear-ified air?
"I don't think I have any reason that anybody should do that. I think Bear Bryant is probably the greatest coach in college football in terms of what he accomplished, what his legacy is," said Saban, citing not only the titles but how Bryant influenced his players' lives.
"There's no way that we have done anything close to what he's done in terms of his consistency over time, how he changed what he did to impact the times. They threw the ball and won. They ran the wishbone and won. He changed tremendously to do what he needed to do to be successful."
Alabama has been mostly driving the Rolls Royce of football conferences since Saban got the program rolling. The SEC has won the last seven national titles.
Even losses to top contenders Texas A&M University last year and LSU two years ago have been mere speed bumps for a program with the sturdiest of shock absorbers.
Alabama barely earned victories against LSU and then the University of Georgia in the SEC title game last season. Once again -- as the Tigers' Les Miles points out -- the Tide doesn't have to play East powers Georgia, University of Florida, or the University of South Carolina in the regular season.
LSU will play Georgia and Florida.
"There can never be an equal path to the championship," said Saban, the lone coach who voted for a nine-game league schedule in the spring. "Unless everybody plays everybody, that's the only equal path to the championship.
"Everybody doesn't play everybody in the NFL. You rotate your schedule."
Quarterback AJ McCarron has started on two of the national title teams and been around for all three. He adhered to the seemingly ingrained philosophy in Saban's program of avoiding using that dynasty word for the Tide's current run.
"We know what we have achieved," McCarron said. "We don't need one word to describe what we've accomplished as a team and as a university as a whole."
Offensive lineman Anthony Steen isn't quite so reticent on what a fourth title in five years would mean.
"I can't explain how special that would be," Steen said. "I know all the guys are thinking about it, but we're just focusing on the first game."
It certainly seems as though they're not done being a contender yet. Reinforcements are on campus from the latest top-ranked recruiting class to help replace three first-round NFL draft picks. Plus, standouts like McCarron, linebacker C.J. Mosley, and wide receiver Amari Cooper return. Saban said this team probably has better offensive skill players.
That loaded roster and recent history make Alabama the heavy favorite to win the SEC again.
Alabama was the overwhelming pick by league media to repeat as SEC champion. Saban noted that reporters have been right only four times in 21 years and says picking a preseason favorite is "crazy" because there are so many factors.
"Now, if I were to go 4-17 as a coach, I would be back in West Virginia pumping gas in my daddy's gas station," Saban said.
He might even be debating some other coach's legacy.