AUBURN, Ala. -- As Alabama coach Nick Saban was dissecting his team’s heart-stopping 26-21 win over Auburn Friday night, he made reference to something great teams do.
He quickly stopped himself and made it clear that he wasn’t calling Alabama a great team.
Not yet, anyway.
The Crimson Tide will get their chance to prove next weekend in the SEC championship game, and potentially on Jan. 7 in the BCS National Championship Game, just what kind of team they truly are.
It remains to be seen if there are any great teams in college football this season.
Then again, here’s betting that Alabama would gladly settle for the “championship team” moniker after all of the BCS dust settles in January and let everybody else debate who’s great and who’s not.
But one thing that’s not debatable about this Alabama team is its ability to deliver when it absolutely has to.
Against Virginia Tech, it was a dominant fourth quarter after trailing 17-16 heading into the final 15 minutes.
Against Tennessee, it was a blocked field goal by Terrence Cody on the final play of the game.
Against LSU, it was a 73-yard touchdown by Julio Jones on a screen pass after the Crimson Tide entered the fourth quarter trailing 15-13.
And against Auburn, it was a 79-yard, 15-play touchdown drive that turned a shaky performance by the Crimson Tide into one they’ll remember for a long time in this rivalry on the Alabama side of things.
Saban calls it “playing in the moment,” and Alabama has turned it into an art form this season.
“I know with fans and other people, everything’s based on results,” Saban said. “But great competitors can play in that moment and that time, and great teams can play in that moment and that time.
“I’m not saying we have a great team. I’m just saying that our team was able to do that tonight, and that was important in us finishing this game like we needed to to get the win.”
Not only did Alabama fall behind 14-0 on Friday before a lot of fans had taken their seats at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but the Crimson Tide found themselves in a position they hadn’t been in all season in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.
They needed to drive the length of the field to win the game.
“You just play the next play. That’s what we tell our players all the time,” Saban said. “That’s probably why they didn’t lose their poise when they got behind in the game, and it’s probably why they didn’t lose their poise at the end of the game when they had to make plays to win the game.”
And now, with Florida waiting next Saturday in the SEC championship game, the Crimson Tide get a chance to take that step they couldn’t navigate a year ago.
Cody said he was thinking about the Gators before he ever left the field Friday night.
“It’s time to get ready for Florida,” Cody said. “We played them real tough last year. But this team is more disciplined, and we’ve got a lot more players and a lot more athletes.”
The other thing Alabama has is a certain resourcefulness about it, that no matter what the situation, the Crimson Tide are going to get it done.
“We’ll have to play Alabama football for the whole 60 minutes [against Florida],” senior linebacker Cory Reamer said. “Today was not Alabama football, but we got out of here with a win.”
Alabama also made a little history, although nobody really seemed too interested in going there considering what comes next.
This is the first time in 35 years that an SEC team has put together back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons. The last team to do it was Alabama in 1973 and 1974 when Bear Bryant was dominating the league.
Of course, as far as this Alabama team is concerned, there’s only one game now that means anything this season.
The one next Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
“It’s all about Florida now,” Cody said, “and it’s finally here.”