Friday, December 15, 2017
Sports

Alabama's Nick Saban: 'It's never okay to lose a game'

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Nick Saban doesn't want to hear that maybe Alabama can lose in the Southeastern Conference championship game and still get into the playoffs.

It's a distinct possibility for the top-ranked Crimson Tide going into Saturday's game against No. 15 Florida, but one they don't want to test. A team that's won 24 consecutive games and beaten 16 straight SEC opponents doesn't go into any game accepting losing.

"You all want to put everything on the playoffs, man," Saban told reporters Monday, his voice rising. "That's all you care about. You don't care about bowl games, you don't care about any teams in the country that aren't in the playoffs. I don't know. If we don't win this game, maybe we throw a stink bomb out there, maybe we don't get in the playoffs.

"I don't know. You guys have all the answers to that, but I don't. All I know is that if we play and we play well, we control our own destiny in terms of what we do. So I'd really rather not have any more questions about 'Is it OK to lose this game?' It's never OK to lose a game."

The Tide (12-0) isn't expected to lose this one, either. Alabama is a 24-1/2-point favorite over the Gators (8-3), who won their second straight SEC East title.

Perfection is hard to attain in the SEC, even in a down year for the league. Saban has brought four national championships to Tuscaloosa but only one unbeaten team, 14-0 in 2009. He has won his last eight national or SEC championship games, but did lose in the playoff semifinals two years ago.

Alabama is riding the third-longest winning streak in both Alabama and SEC history, prevailing by an average of 24.8 points per game. The Tide won 28 straight games twice, from 1978-80 and 1991-93.

"Anybody who says that you can afford to lose a game doesn't know what it's like to play sports," tailback Damien Harris said after Saturday's 30-12 win over Auburn.

Every other national contender — from Ohio State to Clemson and Washington, Michigan and Wisconsin — has lost at least once. Conference championships are among the criteria the selection committee is instructed to emphasize.

Before the playoffs, this was essentially a semifinal game in 2008 and 2009 when Florida and Alabama split a pair of 1 versus 2 matchups. The winner went on to win a national title.

"I think ultimately it was the national semifinal," said Gators coach Jim McElwain, a former Tide offensive coordinator.

This one might not be a must-win game for Alabama, which is seeking its fifth SEC championship under Saban. Every Tide game these days has that feel, though.

Alabama has won its last three games by a combined 112-18 or allowed a touchdown in more than 13 quarters. It is clearly the strongest resume nationally — so far.

Guard Ross Pierschbacher worked hard not to brag when asked if Alabama would need to contribute some mistakes to the opponent to lose a game.

"I think we have the mind-set that we can only beat ourselves," Pierschbacher said. "I'll just leave it at that."

The most emphatic way for the Tide to prove its playoff worthiness is to beat Florida. Otherwise, Alabama must endure the wait-and-see mode like other hopefuls.

"You don't want your season to have to come down to a committee choosing your stakes," tight end O.J. Howard said. "We've just got to take care of business ourselves on the field and we control our own destiny."

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