If there's been a more vocal opponent than Nick Saban of making the four teams included in the 2014 playoff anything other than the top four teams in the country -- conference championships be damned -- we're not aware of him. And Saban made it clear at his Thursday session at SEC media days that he views opinions to the contrary as an attack on the SEC.
"I think, to be quite honest with you, whoever's making the statements about conference champions [getting into the playoff] is really making a statement against the SEC and against any league who has more than one good team who would qualify, trying to enhance the opportunity for somebody from their league to get in," Saban said.
"I think what the fans want to see in the four-team playoff is the best teams, the four best teams in the country, get in the playoff. You don't have to win your conference championship to get in the basketball Final Four. You've got to play your way into it. Whether you win a conference championship or not, if you've played and you're ranked in the top four teams in the country, you ought to have the opportunity to play in the game."
The good news for Saban is that he got his wish when the playoff was set up with no specific preference for conference champions outside of the selection committee's criteria. So now Saban can at least stop lobbying for his ideal construction of the playoff ... and simply start lobbying the committee to go easy on that one particular criterion.
Saban had plenty more to say during his time at the podium, though. Here's the highlights:
On a nine-game SEC schedule, which he's previously said he supports: "My opinion was the No. 1 priority should be that every player at every school have the opportunity to play every SEC school in his career. That's the No. 1 priority.
"Now, it doesn't have to be nine games. But what scheduling format gives us an opportunity to do that? So we've always played two teams on the other side plus a fixed opponent. You can't do that by playing eight. You could do it by playing nine. Everybody's got a self-absorbed opinion about why we shouldn't do it because maybe they won't get bowl eligible.
"People said when we started the SEC championship game that we'll never be able to win a national championship because we'll play this competitive game at the end of the year, people will get knocked out. The fact of the matter was more people got into the national championship game because of what happened in the SEC championship game than got knocked out. We're all playing somebody that is a quality opponent outside the league right now. I don't think the difficulty of schedule would be any greater."
On whether his team would struggle with motivation after winning a national title, as Saban has said they did in 2010: "Having success in a football program can have two effects. You can demand more success or you can get a little complacent and be relaxed about what you have accomplished, really think more about what you did rather than what you're going to do.
"It's human nature to relax, but there's been a lot of examples of very successful people. And I think success should be defined: consistency in performance. Whether it's the Chicago Bulls in the '90s, the Yankees organization through the years, Roger Federer, Magic Johnson as individual athletes who have had great careers, been successful over a long period of time.
"We've obviously learned a lot at Alabama over the last five years. The most important thing we've learned is you got to stay on top of the little things. Things don't happen by accident. You don't win a play by accident. You don't win a game by accident. You don't win a division by accident. You have to make it happen, and you have to make it happen by what you do every day.
"We have had a really good offseason with our team. This team seems to be less affected by the previous year, what has happened in the previous year. They're not really the 2010 team, they're not really the 2011 team. There's a lot of players on this team that this is the opportunity for them and their season."
On opening with Michigan in Dallas: "We've had a lot of national exposure that has really enhanced the development of our program, especially in the early years, by playing neutralâ€‘site games against very good national competition, whether it was Florida State in Jacksonville our first year, Clemson in Atlanta, or Virginia Tech in Atlanta, Penn State home and home the last couple years. Now having the opportunity to go play Michigan in Dallas, and we're going to come back to Atlanta and play Virginia Tech and West Virginia in the next two years. These are the kind of games we look for for national exposure.
"I think playing a great opponent like Michigan the first game of the season really enhances your players' sort of work ethic and preparation in the offseason because they know they're going to play a top-notch team right off the bat, and that's very challenging. That's kind of been the reasoning behind it. It's worked out well for us.
But we know that Michigan is going to have an outstanding team and it will be a very challenging game for us this year."
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