TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it comes to ignoring outside influences, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has always been vehemently opposed to players letting them affect their performance.
For the Iron Bowl, though, it's a different story.
All season long, Saban has reiterated time and time again how his players need to focus less on external factors and rely more so on internal motivations. However, as the team begins its preparations for this weekend's game against the Auburn Tigers, Saban said that it's impossible to ignore those outside voices.
“They’re all big games. This is obviously a rivalry game which makes it a special game and a special challenge. We’ve tried all year to get our players to focus on being motivated internally in terms of what they want to accomplish and what they want to do, how good they want to be. Rather than counting on external factors to create that motivation for them.
"But I think in games like this, there’s gonna be some external factors that may be a positive for some of the guys. I can’t discount that.”
The Iron Bowl is widely regarded as one of the most bitter in not just college football, but in American sports in general. The annual matchup between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers has become must-watch television across the country for college football fans, and this year is no different.
Last season saw Alabama edge out Auburn 24-22 in four overtimes in what will likely go down as one of the best Iron Bowls in the game's storied history. This year, however, sees two different programs.
While quarterback Bryce Young still leads the Crimson Tide's offense, Alabama has a 9-2 record heading into the game and is eliminated from the College Football Playoff conversation. Auburn is currently on a two-game winning streak under interim head coach Carnell 'Cadillac' Williams, with energy among the fan base higher than at any other point in the season.
On Monday, Young said that he does not ignore the external factors for the game and instead embraces them.
"I definitely don't ignore it," Young said. "This is a huge, huge game. It means a lot to us. It means a lot to all the former players, to all the alumni — it means a lot to this state. Again, this is something that's really big for us and to me individually.
"So I don't shy away from that. [...] So for me, it's just finding the headspace to understand the gravity of the situation in the moment but to still be at my best to play and to perform, so that's really where my head's at."
While Alabama might not be in consideration for the SEC Championship Game of the CFP, the Iron Bowl hasn't lost any significance among the players. For Auburn, on the other hand, a win would make the program bowl-eligible and would be a startling upset for the program that has struggled in most of its games this season.
Linebacker Will Anderson Jr., who will be playing in the game for the third time, diplomatically expressed how much the game means for 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 people in the facility and the players. But to play in another Iron Bowl, it’s going to be good. Auburn has a really good team, really good coaching staff and everything like that.
"It’s going to be a good challenge for us, but we’re ready to accept the challenge and go out and play to the Alabama standard.”
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