“You’ve got to say a little prayer the night before.”
That was Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart’s response when asked if his team could beat Alabama. His plea for divine intervention was ultimately unsuccessful, as the Crimson Tide shut out the Hilltoppers 35-0. Another win, another shutout, another testament to "The Process."
It really does seem like it’ll take a miracle for anyone to beat the nation’s top-ranked team anytime soon. Good for them, too bad for everyone else.
This Saturday, Missouri gets the unenviable task of taking on the Crimson Tide. It’s a game every Missouri fan circled as soon as the schedule came out, in which a dangerous, James Franklin-led Tiger offense was supposed to give Alabama a run for its money in its first trip to Columbia.
Now, with Franklin injured and the Tigers fresh off an upset loss to Vanderbilt, backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser will be lucky to keep the Tigers from a second consecutive embarrassment on the CBS nationally-televised game of the week.
Just keeping the score close is a predicament most of the Crimson Tide’s opponents face, a tribute to the completeness of college football’s most fearsome machine. In the highly volatile world of college football, where three of the top-five teams in the rankings lost just last week, Alabama sits as an immovable object atop the polls.
Coach Nick Saban will have you believe all this success is the result of meticulously following The Process. What sounds a little like a cult is really just Saban’s term for his coaching philosophy.
At its most basic level, The Process consists of focusing on the steps to success rather than worrying about the end result. Worry about blocking your man instead of the scoreboard, the next drill rather than conference title, writing a great English paper before thinking about graduating.
But it seems to me you can’t ascribe all of Alabama’s great success to The Process; the Tide just has better players than everybody else. According to Rivals.com, the Crimson Tide has brought in the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class for four of the past five years. (The 2010 class was only ranked fifth, but I guess it hasn’t hurt the program yet.)
Once they arrive in Tuscaloosa, Saban takes those superior players and makes sure they stay superior to their counterparts at other schools. Alabama has produced 11 NFL first-round draft picks since Saban’s arrival in 2007, by far the highest number of any college program.
Saban’s brilliance lies in minimizing the risk of many variables that hurt so many college football teams. Injuries don’t hurt Alabama — when a starter gets hurt, another five-star recruit replaces him. And the Tide’s conservative approach on offense limits the role of the quarterback and thus the risk of turnovers. Ultimately, because Alabama doesn’t beat itself, it’s almost impossible for other teams to beat them.
Yes, Saban and his Process have led the Crimson Tide to undeniable success. Alabama is 53-6 since the start of the 2008 season, winning the national championship in 2009 and 2011. The excellence seems by now almost banal, their national championship destiny written, more a finishing school for the NFL than a flawed group of amateur athletes.
There is no obvious antidote to Alabama, and that’s bad for the game. The beauty of college football is its unpredictability, but the Tide now seems above reproach. Attrition assures that its dynasty won’t carry on forever. But until something drastic changes, all opponents caught in the crosshairs can do is pray.