Nick Saban stepped to the postgame podium following his team’s 52-point vanquishing of Vanderbilt on Saturday night and applauded it.

He talked about Will Anderson Jr.’s virtuoso performance.

He talked about Byron Young’s sprained ankle.

He talked about the curious lack of forced turnovers.

He talked about the way a Saban Alabama team should play.

He talked about living up to and playing up to The Standard.

“The team played really well,” said Saban after his second-ranked Crimson Tide started 4-0 for the 7th season in a row. “I think the team is buying in to playing to the standard.”

With that one spoken sentence came the Saban seal of approval for the 2022 team that it will carry into an SEC gauntlet of games that begins on Saturday in the prime 3:30 CBS window against an agitated Arkansas team. This won’t be Utah State or Louisiana-Monroe or Vandy in the comfy confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium. This will be a ranked Hogs team in front of a fired-up and riled-up Fayetteville crowd that wants to take down the program that’s gotten in their way and nearly everybody else’s since Saban stepped onto the scene in 2007.

They won’t want to hear about any so-called Standard come Saturday. Even if it is a living, breathing thing for each Bama team to live up to or fall just short reaching for the finish line, like last season when the Tide didn’t win that 7th national title under Saban and instead had to watch a hated rival celebrate.

You see, reaching The Standard is what guys like Anderson and Bryce Young right down to those deep-reserve freshmen are challenged by, especially right at this very moment. It is the last Monday in September, and by Saturday when the Tide take the field in hostile territory it will be the first day of October, a month when SEC title dreams dawn and sometimes are squashed.

The Hogs are teetering, already.

Because they already have a loss, a crushing 23-21 setback to Texas A&M last Saturday night at Jerry’s World when they once again snatched dramatic defeat from a program-boosting victory. This Saturday could’ve been a showdown of undefeated teams, but Arkansas kicker Cam Little’s 42-yard field goal attempt clanged off the top of the right upright with 90 seconds to go, preserving an Aggies win and sending Sam Pittman’s team into all-out defense mode.

There is no more margin for error now for an Arkansas team that spiraled 10 spots in Sunday’s new AP poll, falling to No. 20. It’s either rebound or realize it’s just not quite good enough, yet again. And the Hogs will have to do this against the beast of a program with that darn Standard that Saban brought up after the Vandy game.

The Standard is what’s helped the Crimson Tide beat the Hogs 14 times in a row. Bama has tortured Arkansas pretty much since it joined the SEC in 1992, whether the game was in Tuscaloosa or Fayetteville or even Little Rock, like the very first conference meeting between the programs that the Tide won 38-11. Gene Stallings’ team broke Hogs fans’ hearts that September night and kept right on winning all the way to a national championship.

The ugly script has repeated itself over and over for Arkansas during this series that the Tide now leads 22-8 all-time after the programs split their first 16 meetings. Last fall, a similarly 21st-ranked Hogs team came into Bryant-Denny and nearly stunned Bama, putting up 35 points that, again, just weren’t good enough because the Tide scored 42. Every time the game got close Bama had an answer, with a different cast of weapons but led by the same quarterback in Young who went on to win the Heisman Trophy.

Bama has pulled the rug out from under Arkansas like that for a few generations now. That familiar script authored by The Standard has never been flipped, which is why this Saturday in Fayetteville is so intriguing.

Yes, the Tide have the glossy record and stars and swagger, and they’ve dominated their 3 home games to a ridiculous tune. But in their 1 road game, Bama was very fortunate not to get beat, needing the courage of Young’s legs and arm and a few bounces here and there to escape Austin with a 1-point win over a then-unranked Texas team.

This fact can’t be hidden beneath all the dominant overall numbers Bama has built up over its first 4 games. Yes, it is a perfect 4-0 and just came off an SEC opener where it rolled up 628 total yards of offense. But it was Vandy, and it was at home. This is a ranked team on the road, where Saban’s team has failed to meet The Standard over the past few seasons, losing at Texas A&M in 2021 and nearly falling at Florida and at Auburn, too.

Despite all this and the likelihood that the Hogs are going to bring a boatload of emotion, especially at the beginning, Vegas still likes the Tide to fairly easily make it 15 in a row over the Hogs on Saturday. Bama has been listed as an early favorite by as many as 16.5 points by our friends at FanDuel.

Maybe it’s Vegas falling back on Bama’s history and just not believing Arkansas can rebound from such a devastating defeat.

Maybe it’s a combination of those things, plus its faith that Saban will have his stars and supporting cast ready for the month of October more than an upstart head coach with 15 wins to his credit at the major college level.

Maybe it’s all that and then some. It probably is.

And maybe, after 15 years of seeing Bama win it all and do it again and again under Saban, the point spread is saying out loud that it doesn’t care that Arkansas is playing at home.

It only sees the crimson and white coming out and handling its business, like it almost always does.

Because right now, and after all these frustrating seasons, Arkansas still has a wonderful vision for greatness.

But Bama has The Standard.