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Tunnel vision

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Kansas State stumbling, Oregon falling, Alabama reviving its hopes of a national championship -- Nick Saban doesn't want to get involved with all of that. Those things are irrelevant to the sixth-year coach of the Crimson Tide. Everything beyond Saturday's matchup with Auburn is a distraction.

"I just want to make everybody understand here that we're not in any conversations about anything other than the game we're playing," Saban said Monday, clearly perturbed with the assumption that Alabama will have no trouble beating a three-win, 34-point underdog.

It was an odd juxtaposition when balanced against Saban's post-game remarks a week ago. He took to the podium after losing to Texas A&M and spoke of the opportunity to win the West and compete in the SEC championship game.

"There is still a lot for this team to play for," he said, neglecting to mention the Iron Bowl or Auburn in the process.

Now, it's all the Crimson Tide are allowed to speak about.

"Everybody in this organization needs to understand that we're dismissing all talk about anything except playing Auburn," he said, reiterating his stance against any mention of Georgia, the SEC title or a trip to Miami to face No. 1 Notre Dame. The latter would have likely been grounds for dismissal.

Auburn may be 0-7 in the SEC, but that doesn't mean Alabama is chalking the Iron Bowl up as a win. If anything, the Tide are overselling the matchup.

Saban called the Tigers' rookie quarterback Jonathan Wallace a good manager of the offense and praised Auburn's running game, the same unit that is ninth in the league and 73rd in the country in rushing offense.

"He's done a good job of throwing the football," Saban said. "They've got some decent skill guys that have made more explosive plays in the passing game."

The Tigers are ranked lower than 100th in scoring offense, total offense and passing offense. They've given up the fifth-most negative plays and have turned the ball over a whopping 22 times. On paper, they're about as dangerous as a cold cup of soup.

"They're a great team that will give you their best game and will play hard," said UA safety Robert Lester, following his coach's lead. "They have talent everywhere."

As one of just nine seniors on the roster, Lester said it's up to him and the other leaders to keep the team focused on the task at hand. He said Auburn is "out to ruin our season," something that nearly happened a week ago when Alabama overlooked Texas A&M.

Lester insisted he didn't even feel like celebrating when No. 1 and No. 2 fell on Saturday night, opening the door for a return trip to the national championship game. That's just college football, he said.

"Just like last year, crazy things are going to happen," he said. "Crazy things are going to happen next year. The only thing we need to worry about right now is to play our football and not worry about what's going on outside Alabama and handle it the way we need to handle it."

Inside the halls of the Alabama athletic department, it's all about the Iron Bowl. Georgia and the SEC championship game are being put on hold, the thought of a trip to Miami kept on ice.

Said linebacker C.J. Mosley: "If we don't win the next two games, it doesn't matter."

The response of players like Mosley and Lester is music to Saban's ears. The hope is the message trickles down to the rest of the roster.

Saban said his team played with the weight of expectations before and lost to Texas A&M because of it. Armed with a second chance, he wants his team focused on playing well and not looking ahead to the future.

"You know, be positive," he said. "It's what great competitors love to do, go compete and play your best games. Don't get emotionally stressed out or start playing to keep from getting beat and be tentative about your approach to what you're doing. I think it did happen to us and it probably happened to some other people. That's what we try to guard against. You've got to stay focused on the process of what you're doing right now."

And right now, it's all Auburn, all the time. The rest is irrelevant, at least for those wearing crimson and white.