Talent and coaching are the two dominant factors in most victories. But when two closely matched squads clash, very often the mentally stronger team will prevail. In the fourth quarter versus MTSU and in the second half versus the Sooners, Alabama refused to fold.
"It says a lot about our leadership and the mentality that we have learned," Franchione said. "We're learning to believe in what we do and in each other, and to continue to compete for 60 minutes."
For most of the second half Saturday, Alabama played the nation's second-ranked team off its feet, taking a lead deep into the fourth quarter before ultimately losing. Alabama's performance defied expectations, and many pundits and fans have rushed to praise the Tide's effort.
Admittedly, there are plenty of positives that can be taken from the game. But for Franchione and his players, the bottom line was a loss. Franchione explained, "I told the guys yesterday that we can sit around and feel good about ourselves. We certainly appreciate our fans' comments. But we've got to press on.
"I'm not going to let them feel too good about playing close."
As Franchione commented earlier this week, there are plenty of programs around the country that would be ecstatic with Saturday's game. Play well on national television. Gain some respect from the media. Make the fans feel good about your progress.
But the Tide players have learned the lessons and moved on. "I haven't had to do a lot of work in that regard," Franchione said. "Our players have watched the video on North Texas. They respect North Texas."
Though there is obviously plenty of performance progress to be made, Franchione feels good about the heart shown by Bama in its first two games. But he actually saw that attitude change start in 2001, resulting in the four-game winning streak that ended the season.
"I really think it began the last four games last year," Franchione said. "It carried into the off season and it's carried into these two games."
"We may not have won Saturday," Franchione continued, "but it wasn't because we lacked confidence. We weren't wide-eyed. We weren't struggling (mentally). We just didn't make the plays."
Sources close to the Alabama program report that it really wasn't until the LSU game last year that a genuine level of trust developed between players and coaches. Blistered by criticism from the press and fans, the squad bonded together and became a team.
In its 2002 season-opener the Tide struggled with a game MTSU squad--but prevailed in the end. And when it would have been all-too-easy to quit at halftime in Norman, instead Alabama stormed back with a masterful third-quarter performance. "Last year at this time we were all those things (wide-eyed and mentally struggling)," Franchione explained. "We weren't confident; we weren't sure. We were learning to adjust.
"I don't think that's us right now. These athletes keep fighting each day."
Franchione believes his team is developing mental toughness, which will be absolutely vital as it works its way through one of the nation's toughest schedules.
He commented, "I told the team after practice today, ‘We're one play away from being 2-0. And we're one play away from being 0-2.'"