Why Nick Saban teams are so good in big games

TAMPA, Fla. — Good luck getting Nick Saban to share any of his secrets on why he has been so incredibly good on the biggest stages in his college football coaching career.

At Alabama, he’s 11-2 in SEC championship, BCS national championship and College Football Playoff games. Throw in his 3-0 record at LSU — the 2001 SEC championship win over Tennessee, 2003 SEC championship win over Georgia and 2003 BCS national championship win over Oklahoma — and that’s a glistening 14-2 record on championship stages.

“I don’t even remember the ones that we won. What comes to my mind are the ones that we lost,” Saban told ESPN.com recently in a wide-ranging interview.

It’s the kind of answer that has come to define Saban and his program at Alabama, which is looking for its fifth national championship in the past eight years Monday night in a rematch with Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

As much as anything, what has separated Alabama under Saban is the Crimson Tide’s ability to consistently play their best football on the biggest of stages. They haven’t always been perfect in getting there and have even had some help along the way. But once there, they have been money.

“It’s the only thing we know,” Alabama senior defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “We’re playing against ourselves as much as we are anything, playing to a standard that’s been around here for a long time. That doesn’t change, and it’s never going to change as long as Coach Saban is around. I don’t know if that’s a secret. It’s just the way we do things, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the first game of the season or the national championship game.”

Alabama has obviously done a lot of things right in those championship environments under Saban. The Crimson Tide have beaten eight top-five teams. Nine of their 11 wins were by double digits, and their average margin of victory in those 11 wins was a whopping 20.8 points.

But in vintage Saban fashion, his recollection of the Tide’s dizzying run centers around what they didn’t do right in their only two losses — both to Urban Meyer-coached teams.

“I thought we played really poorly against Ohio State in the [2014] playoff,” Saban said. “When we lost to Florida in the [2008] SEC championship, it was our second year and we kind of had a young team, and I thought we played our tail off in that game. They just made the plays they had to make down the stretch in the fourth quarter and we didn’t.”

Saban blames himself for the fact that the Tide didn’t handle the playoff atmosphere as well as Meyer and Ohio State did in the 2014 semifinal, and he said that was evident in the game. Ohio State rallied from an early 21-6 deficit to win 42-35 in New Orleans.

“That first playoff game was a little bit odd with the transition,” Saban said. “I didn’t do a very good job with the…