The three are Alabama and Mississippi State in the West and Missouri in the East. That is not to say that another team cannot reach the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, but those are the three that do not need help from other teams. Obviously, Bama and Mississippi State play one another. If either of those teams wins out, it wins the West. Missouri wins out, it repeats as champion of the East.
Other teams, though, are capable of coming up with enough wins and with one of the “destiny” teams losing to take a title. One of those teams that is currently on the outside looking in is LSU. The Fighting Tigers aren’t far outside, though, and can help themselves Saturday night in Baton Rouge.
Alabama (7-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC) plays at LSU (7-2, 3-2) at 7 p.m. CST Saturday with television coverage by CBS.
“I think the most important thing to our team is we have to win the games that we play,” Saban said. “We play them one game at a time and we've got to get everybody committed to playing their best football, practicing the best, preparing the best, being able to take it into the game when the game comes.
“These teams that we're going to play are outstanding teams. LSU is an outstanding team. This is the game we play this week and that's where our total focus is, on this one game. Because that's the most important thing for us right now this week. 'Be where your feet are.' This is where we are right now. This is the most important thing to us. Rankings really mean nothing right now at all to our team.
But if we're going to have a chance to end up where we have any opportunities at the end of the season, whether it's the SEC, playoff or anything like that, then we have to take care of business today, on what do we have to do to get ready for this game. We have to do a really good job as coaches and players of trying to prepare ourselves the best that we can to play our best football.”
Both Alabama, which is ranked fourth in the weekly polls (and was sixth in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings), and LSU, ranked 14th in the weekly polls, had open dates last week.
Saban said, “I think sometimes bye weeks are good and sometimes they don't work out so well. I think a little bit of it is mindset of your players in terms of how they look at it, what they want to get out of it, how they want to improve what their mindset is toward that. And then when you come back off the bye week, you reestablish the sort of mental focus, intensity, whatever you want to call it, to get back into game-week mode, beast mode, whatever you want to call it, which is kind of what you need to do.”
This is an unusual year in that the calendar fell so that teams have two bye weeks in the 14-week college football regular season. Bama’s previous bye-week came when the Tide was 4-0 and headed to Ole Miss.
Saban said, “I think our team has gone through one bye week already and we didn't play our best coming off of that game, so hopefully we learned a lot from that. We certainly practiced a lot better last week on this bye week than the one before. And hopefully it'll carry over into preparation for this one.”
Alabama did not play well following its open week and lost at Ole Miss by 23-17.
Saban did point out that the coaching staff was able to get some recruiting done in the bye week.
He concluded, “Obviously, we're looking forward to having a great week of preparation after a bye week. Our goals were to get our players more ready to play for 60 minutes in the game, be more disciplined in the way we play for 60 minutes in the game. Get everybody committed to the role that they have. I certainly think they made progress toward that.
“Having a few days off, hopefully we're rested and got some guys healthier and we can have a great week of preparation this week for LSU.
“These games are traditionally very tough, physical games between two ranked teams. It's certainly not going to be any different this year.
“They have a very, very good team who's playing their best football of the year the last three games.
“They have an execellent running game, very good offensive line, very good running backs. Their defense has been outstanding. One of the most difficult teams to score on. No. 1 pass efficiency defense in the country.
“They're always ball-hawking, create a lot of turnovers. Ball security is always an issue when we play against these guys. They're outstanding on special teams and have very good specialists.
“This is a team that has really good players, is really well coached. They do a great job. Les (LSU Coach Les Miles) has done a great job there.
“This is going to be a very challenging game for us. I think, relative to the circumstances that we're in that we should have an expectation to get everyone's best every day for what we have a chance to accomplish.
Playing these games one game at a time, and this is the most important game because this is the game that we play this week against a very good team on the road in a difficult place to play.”