Tide know titles come tough
Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 4:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 4:18 p.m.
HOOVER, Ala. — In a vote of the media, Alabama is an overwhelming choice to win the Southeastern Conference title in 2013. So, because the SEC Championship Game winner has gone on to win the last seven national championships, it must be OK to go ahead and engrave “Alabama” on the crystal trophy.
Well, not quite, Alabama coach Nick Saban said Thursday at SEC Media Days.
“In the last 21 seasons, you guys have been right only four times,” Saban said, holding up four fingers. “If I was 4-17, I'd be back in West Virginia pumping gas at my daddy's gas station. And we don't want to go there.”
There is a strong feeling across the nation that the media actually has it right this time. That Alabama will win the SEC and have a chance to go on and play for a third consecutive national championship.
But, as the Tide learned (and showed everybody else) last season, there's nothing easy about defending, about winning a national championship.
“I know everybody is going to be targeting for us,” Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron said. “And everybody is going to come out and bring their ‘A' game against us.”
Everyone targeted Alabama last season — and one, Texas A&M, made a direct hit, upsetting the Tide in Tuscaloosa in a late-season game.
Still, Alabama recovered, some other teams faltered down the stretch, and the Tide ended up in the national championship game, where they trounced Notre Dame 41-14.
It was a close call getting there. Georgia could have easily been there instead. Or some other team. Maybe Kansas State or Oregon.
That's why Saban was standing at the podium Thursday pointing out how fragile a team's chances can be, about how one play, one unfocused moment, can be the difference from reaching the mountaintop or falling off during the climb.
“We're obviously proud of what our team was able to accomplish last year and the year before,” Saban said. “But we also learned that there are five or six plays that sort of can define your season and make a difference in the season.
“Two or three plays can affect the outcome of a game. So, your players' commitment to a standard of excellence to be prepared, to give effort, to play with toughness and discipline and execute every play, is very, very important.
“That's what we're trying to get our players to buy into to put themselves in a position to make those plays in what will be a competitive and challenging season against some great football teams.”
Saban will be relieved to know that his star quarterback is one of those take-it-one-play-and-one-game-at-a-time kind of guys.
“I think every game is the same way,” McCarron said. “I take every week the same. There are people who go out there to try and take something I want in the end. So, I'm going to go out and try to handle my business the exact same way, no matter who I'm playing.”
McCarron and the Tide came up big when they needed to most last season.
McCarron rallied Alabama to a late victory against LSU in Baton Rouge. The Tide came up with a championship-saving stop on the 5-yard line against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
Surely, there will be critical season-defining moments ahead in 2013.
“You have to be ready every week,” Bama senior guard Anthony Steen said. “We're just focusing on the first game, that first week.
“I know in the SEC, you have to take it one game at a time, focus on the next game and just concentrate.”
It's a formula the Tide have followed to consecutive national titles, and three in the past four years.
Alabama will try to make it four national titles in five years this season, which certainly would put Saban's program in the college football dynasty category.
“Everyone goes through their era in college football,” McCarron said. “Miami was good for years, then Florida State, then Nebraska. Everyone has their time and then it falls out after two or three years.
“Our thing is, why does it have to leave? I think it goes back to the leaders and what they're passing on.
“If you go up to guys and it's like a buddy-buddy thing instead of getting up in their face and saying, ‘You're not doing your job, and if you don't get your act together, you can't keep coming out here with us.' We've all got a job to do out there.”
The job is about winning. About winning big, winning championships.
It's the Alabama way under Saban.
“Basically, (our winning) keeps us humble,” Crimson Tide senior linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “It makes us sure we're living in the moment, not looking ahead to games or thinking about winning back-to-back championships.”