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October 29, 2013
Is Nick Saban having his best year at Alabama?
The argument can be made, even if Nick Saban disagrees, that perhaps this season is the University of Alabama's seventh-year head man's best coaching job in crimson and white.
There have been suspensions, key injuries and the untimely distraction of an investigation into whether former player D.J. Fluker received impermissible benefits that became public the week of the key Southeastern Conference West showdown with Texas A&M.
Through all of that "clutter," as he calls it, and there's been plenty, Saban kept his team focused and, through eight games, still No. 1 and unbeaten.
Saban disagreed Tuesday evening during his press conference, saying that what others, media included, describe as distractions aren't.
"I don't think some of the things that you all think are distractions that you like to keep a tally of and think that's the only thing that's important really is the issue," Saban said of the rash of suspensions this season.
Whether or not they have been a distraction, Saban handled each disciplinary issue consistently, and it hasn't been with just reserve players. Either way, nothing has knocked Alabama off its perch even as it has remained the most targeted team in the country.
Saban may downplay his role, but players say the team takes its cue from him. He's emphasized staying away from the clutter more this season.
"(He has), mainly because it's happened more this year," senior linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "I mean, hopefully we've had our last little incident happen. So, hopefully, that's the last one. But if it does (happen again), Coach always does a good job of disciplining people and they come back positive because they know they messed up and they try to do their best to prove that they can be successful on this team."
This team is talented, but it might not be on par with teams of the recent past. Most teams aren't burdened with rebuilding while under the glare and pressure of a top ranking. Those outside expectations that were thrust upon Alabama and Saban haven't affected the team thus far. The credit for that goes to Saban. He won't allow them to.
"Because, really, all that stuff that happened, if we don't let it affect us inside here, it won't be a problem," Mosley said. "Basically, what's off the field is off the field."
Still, Saban remains resolved in his notion that there haven't been many distractions this season.
"We haven't had a lot of issues here with guys that play, we haven't had a lot of issues with guys that we're really counting on," Saban said. "A lot of the guys are young guys that just need to learn.
"Sometimes the best way to learn is to have an experience, and sometimes when you make a mistake, that's the best time to teach. There's been some good lessons learned, so I think that's a good thing, not necessarily a bad thing."
Reach Aaron Suttles at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0229.