A No. 1 ranking. A grudge match. A title shot.
To Alabama coach Nick Saban, those aren’t things to celebrate. They’re ‘‘external factors,’’ potential distractions that can waylay a team before it reaches its ultimate goals.
Maybe that’s why much of the Crimson Tide’s public reaction Monday to the program’s first regular-season No. 1 ranking in 28 years — a span that covered eight coaches — ranged from indifference to chagrin.
‘‘Being ranked No. 1 is all right, I guess,’’ tailback Glen Coffee sighed, ‘‘but it brings more problems than anything.’’
So maybe it’s a positive for the Tide that most of the questions Saban fielded Monday were about his return to face No. 15 LSU on Saturday in his former stomping grounds. Talk of No. 1 was relegated to No. 2.
Alabama (9-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) can clinch the Western Division title and secure a spot in the league championship game for the first time since 1999 with a win over Saban’s old team.
The No. 1 ranking came after Texas Tech knocked off Texas on a closing seconds touchdown. The Longhorns had earlier jumped the Tide with a win over then-No. 1 Oklahoma.
Safety Rashad Johnson, at least, is enthusiastic about Alabama holding the top spot in the regular season for the first time since a nine-week stretch during the 1980 season. The Tide finished the 1992 season with a national championship, but didn’t top the rankings until the final poll.
‘‘I definitely was rooting for Texas Tech,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘I think they’re a good team, just like Texas is a good team.
‘‘But you always want to be the No. 1 team in the nation. That’s something as a kid growing up you always go, I want to play for a program that’s No. 1. What better place to do it at than Alabama? And give these fans and this state something to cheer about, and something they deserve.’’
Alabama spent the past five weeks at No. 2 before ascending to the hot seat, the fifth team to hold the top spot this season.
To players like Coffee, that just means more questions about the rankings. To Saban, it’s one of those dreaded ‘‘external factors’’ he brings up frequently to the media and players.
‘‘I lost count last year,’’ cornerback Kareem Jackson said. ‘‘He kind of beats that in our heads. I think we get the point now.’’
It seems so. Alabama has survived two close calls and cruised to a pair of easy wins since moving to No. 2 with an impressive road win over Georgia.
Now, the Tide has managed a 10-game win streak for the 21st time in program history, a major college record.
A team that has a bowl-subdivision-low nine seniors and has played 16 freshmen doesn’t seem to be letting all that success go to its head. Johnson said the youngsters have handled it well all season.
‘‘We haven’t really had anybody say anything about ’We’re ranked No. 2 now, this and that,’’’ he said. ‘‘It’s hardly ever talked about in the locker room, because we know none of that means anything.
‘‘At any point in time, you can go out on Saturday and get beat. I think that comes from coach Saban stressing that to us every time he gets the opportunity to talk to us as a team. I think everybody believes that, what he’s telling us.’’
Maybe that’s why Saban’s reference to the new ranking was a variation of, That’s nice, so what?
‘‘We appreciate the acknowledgement, but that doesn’t really define anything relative to what we’re trying to accomplish,’’ he said.
Neither does his venture back to Tiger Stadium. He has repeatedly emphasized that the game is about the players and two good teams, not about his return to the campus where he coached for five seasons.
‘‘We appreciated our time there,’’ Saban said. ‘‘It was very special. We have great memories and great friends.
‘‘My heart is with this team. This team has worked hard. These guys deserve the best opportunity they can to be put in the best circumstance and situation to be successful, and that’s certainly what we’re going to try to focus on.’’