With one pronouncement, Saban tries to set the tone for the week: "Look, our guys were a little humbled this morning. They needed it, man. Been telling them for two weeks that it's not that easy to keep winning."
Monday, 3:25 p.m.
The entire team gathers for meetings only twice during the week (not counting game day), on Monday and Friday afternoons. In his press conference at noon, Saban said that last year's 45-29 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor would be no motivating factor in this year's game, but those were simply respectful words for the Wolverines to read. "I usually don't talk about the past," Saban tells the Spartans, "but I was embarrassed by our performance last year, and I was embarrassed by the job I did as a coach. We've all had to live with that for 365 days, and we'll have to live with it for another 365 days if it happens again."
Then he tells a parable, as is his style. "If I put a two-by-four on the ground and asked you to walk across it, how many of you guys could do that?" he asks rhetorically. "You could all do it, because you'd focus on the board. But what if I took that same two-by-four and put it 10 stories up, stretched between two buildings? Then it's hard to focus on the board, because you're focused on your fear of falling. Focus on your goals. Don't be distracted by your fears. Concentrate on the two-by-four and we'll get it done."
Monday, 5:30 p.m.
Practice unfolds each day on two scruffy, side-by-side grass practice fields next to the Duffy. A full-sized indoor field is also available but seldom used. "Like my man Woody [Hayes] used to say, if you're going to fight in the North Atlantic, you've got to train in the North Atlantic,' " says Saban. A cool wind whispers across the fields, forewarning of the bitter cold that would arrive on Tuesday and stay for the week. Practice is divided into periods, varying in duration from seven to 22 minutes, with each period devoted to a particular phase of the game. Offensive and defensive scout teams, composed of redshirts and walk-ons, mimic Michigan's units, but it's often a laughable exercise. "They line up right—sometimes—and that's about it," says Pees. "But every school has that problem."
Alone on one of the fields is sophomore punter Paul Edinger, who hurt the Spartans with 28-and 11-yard punts against Northwestern. He's booming spirals into the sky. "I was kicking great in practice last week, too," he says with a shrug.
Tuesday, 8:45 a.m.
Fifth-year senior guard Scott Shaw fills the hollow of the Duffy's new 9,000-square-foot weight room with piercing screams as he pounds through a series of leg lifts. Players lift as ambitiously during the season as in the off-season. Shaw can bench 500 pounds and do 35 repetitions with 225 pounds. For him lifting is therapy. "When I'm on the bench, I imagine I'm pushing a Wolverine off me," he says. "When I do high reps, I do one rep for every Big Ten team and one extra for the Rose Bowl."
"It's true," says strength coach Ken Mannie. "Sometimes he shouts them out loud." Shaw also shaves his head bowling-ball smooth each Thursday night, a ritual that is central to his preparation.