TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – When it comes to ignoring outside influences, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has always been vehemently opposed to allowing players to influence their performance.
For the Iron Bowl, however, it’s a different story.
Throughout the season, Saban has consistently emphasized that his players need to focus less on external factors and rely more on internal motivations. However, as the team begins preparations for this weekend’s game against the Auburn Tigers, Saban said it was impossible to ignore those outside voices.
“These are all big games. This is obviously a rivalry game, which makes it a special game and a special challenge. We’ve been trying all year to get our players to focus on being motivated from within, what they want to achieve and what they want to do, how good they want to be. Rather than relying on external factors to create that motivation for them.
“But I think in games like this there will be some external factors that could be positive for some of the guys. I can’t ignore that.”
The Iron Bowl is widely regarded as one of the most bitter, not just in college football but in American sports in general. The annual clash between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers has become a must-watch for college football fans across the country, and this year is no different.
Last season, Alabama defeated Auburn 24-22 in four overtimes in a game that will likely go down as one of the best Iron Bowls in game history. This year, however, there are two different programs.
With quarterback Bryce Young still leading the Crimson Tide offense, Alabama goes into the game with a 9-2 record and is out of the college football playoff call. Auburn is currently on a two-game winning streak under interim head coach Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, with a fanbase more energetic than at any other time of the season.
On Monday, Young said he doesn’t ignore the external factors to the game and instead embraces them.
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“I’m definitely not ignoring it,” Young said. “This is a huge, huge game. It means a lot to us. It means a lot to all former players and all alumni – it means a lot to this state. Again this is something that is really big for us and me individually.
“I’m not afraid of that. […] So for me it’s just a matter of finding my head clear to understand the seriousness of the situation at the moment but still being at my best to play and perform so that’s really where my head is.
While Alabama might not be a contender for the CFP’s SEC Championship Game, the Iron Bowl hasn’t lost importance with players. For Auburn, on the other hand, a win would qualify the program for the Bowl and would be a surprising upset for the program, which has struggled in most of its games this season.
Linebacker Will Anderson Jr., who will be playing for the third time, diplomatically expressed how much the game means to both sides.
“You know, this is like one of the biggest games in the country,” Anderson said. “It means a lot to a lot of people here. I know it means a lot to the people at the facility and the players. But to play in another Iron Bowl it will be fine. Auburn has a really good team, a really good coaching staff and so on.
“It’s going to be a good challenge for us, but we’re ready to take the challenge and play to the Alabama standard.”
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