No. 1 Alabama’s road to a perfect regular season seems paved in crimson and white.
The next two opponents are Auburn and Mississippi State, after all, two teams mired in disappointing seasons who are a combined 3-8 in Southeastern Conference games. Time to start gearing up for that matchup with No. 3 Florida in the league title game, right?
Not for a team that has lost two straight to Mississippi State, Saturday’s opponent, and an excruciating six in a row to chief rival Auburn.
‘‘If somebody were to say that to me, I’d believe they haven’t seen them,’’ Crimson Tide offensive tackle Drew Davis said. ‘‘Because it doesn’t matter what your record is right now; everybody’s going to play you tough, especially Mississippi State and especially Auburn.’’
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If there was were any chance of Alabama (10-0, 6-0) getting ahead of itself, recent history would suggest that is premature.
The Tide secured a spot in the SEC championship game with Saturday’s overtime win at LSU, ending a five-year losing streak to one Western Division rival. Now, what defensive end Brandon Deaderick jokingly calls Alabama’s ‘‘revenge tour’’ resumes.
‘‘We know that they’ve beat us the past two years, and it makes us mad, OK?’’ quarterback John Parker Wilson said. ‘‘We want to go out there and win the game to keep doing what we’ve done this season. We’ve just kind of had a bad taste in our mouth the last couple of years, them and Auburn.’’
LSU, too. But that’s old news now.
Mississippi State beat the Tide 17-12 in the last meeting, part of a four-game skid to end the regular season. Two years ago, the Bulldogs handed Alabama an even more painful loss. They snapped a 23-game SEC losing streak on the road and didn’t exactly help soon-to-be-fired coach Mike Shula’s job security.
‘‘They came out and fought their tails off and beat us fair and square,’’ Deaderick said. ‘‘When somebody does that to you, especially when you can see so many places you could win the game, it’s really a dagger to the heart. You go out there wanting to make up for last year and the year before that, just finish this season the way it should be finished.’’
The coaches hung a poster featuring last year’s final score from the Mississippi State game in the football complex as a reminder. Alabama couldn’t even manage a touchdown in the game.
Tide coach Nick Saban doesn’t think his players need any reminders about the recent history against the Bulldogs.
‘‘I think they know it, and I think that they have respect for the team that we’re playing,’’ Saban said. ‘‘It’s important that we play well. I think the emphasis is that we play well and that we execute. What happened in last year’s game will have no impact on this year’s game. What happened the year before when I wasn’t even here and I can’t even remember where I was at really won’t have any impact on this game either.’’
If Saban can keep the Tide focused through all the talk and attention surrounding his return visit to LSU, the next two games might not be so problematic, anyway.
The Tigers and Bulldogs certainly would love nothing more than an attention-getting, morale-boosting win over Alabama.
But for a team that has spent the past seven weeks as either No. 1 or No. 2 nationally, Saban doesn’t think that’s anything new.
‘‘I think we’ve been the target for a while now,’’ he said. ‘‘Everybody’s bringing their A-game to play us. That’s something our players need to understand. There’s a difference between playing to win and to play to keep from getting beat. We certainly don’t want to get into that mode.’’
Saban isn’t taking the team’s focus for granted, even though it hasn’t sustained many big lapses all season. He likens it to having teenage children, which he does, and worrying about them when they’re out at night — even though he trusts them.
‘‘That’s how I feel about our guys,’’ he said. ‘‘I love them, I trust them. They’ve done a good job all year. They haven’t gotten in trouble but until they show up and do it ... when they walk in the door at night, then I’m fine.’’