HOOVER, Ala. — At first glance, the University of Alabama football team’s annual appearance at SEC Media Days came across as uneventful. The players and coach Nick Saban successfully maneuvered from room to room at the Wynfrey Hotel almost effortlessly.
The coach didn’t appear to have an agenda item that he was pushing, there was no offseason controversy to be address and no one seemed to make a major stumble.
That’s the first glance.
The second should cause the rest of the SEC a lot of concern, because the Crimson Tide very quietly let it be known that they’re on a mission after falling short in last year’s national championship game against Clemson.
“We definitely need that [the motivation],” wide receiver Calvin Ridley said. “When you lose a big game like that, you definitely come into the next season with a chip on your shoulder. We’re very excited to get out there.
“All our guys that did play in that game are really hungry to get back out there and play and show the world that we are one of the top teams in the nation.”
Alabama already is and everyone knows it. When the SEC preseason media poll is released on Friday the question isn’t where the Crimson Tide will be listed, but which team will be second. Similarly, it’ll be a shock if Alabama isn’t at No. 1 in both the coaches and Associated Press polls.
Having secured four national titles since 2009, Saban obviously knows how to win. He’s had a team run the table and enjoyed repeat titles in 2011-12, which last year’s Crimson Tide came one second away from matching. But no one may be better at bouncing back from a loss like the last-second 35-31 defeat to Clemson.
Most coaches and players would dwell on it, unintentionally crippling their chances the subsequent season.
Not Alabama, nor, specifically, Saban. That’s why All-American defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick had fun telling a story about getting chewed out after a big win. “We’re like, really man? We just won 56-0.”
And Saban mentioned that he had to play golf every day while on vacation to get his competitive “fix.”
But the Saban quote that should reverberate: “We don’t want to waste the loss.”
Nick Saban reminds us : Coffee is for closers. pic.twitter.com/2EcsV9W4D5
— SEC Country Alabama (@SECCountryBama) July 12, 2017
Consequently, Alabama may have been relaxed, but it was also all business on Wednesday morning. As Saban said of the Clemson loss, “It’s not the last play. It’s what led up to the last play.”
It’s safe to assume al the players have been all business all summer.
“These guys are pushing it every day,” senior center Bradley Bozeman said. “They’re busting through walls and knocking down barriers.
“It’s really impressive how hard these guys work … We’re killing it.”
Motivation and talent is always a potent combination, especially when you consider the Crimson Tide roster. In many ways it’s on par with the Alabama teams that have dominated since 2008. What really jumps out are the slew of playmakers.
For example, at running back the depth chart already boasted Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, Joshua Jacobs and B.J. Emmons. Now it also has prize newcomers Najee Harris and Brian Robinson.
Meanwhile, the wide receiving corps has added Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Devonta Smith and Chadarius Townsend to projected starters Ridley, Robert Foster and Cam Sims.
So when asked what’s different about this year’s team it only made sense that the players here would talk about their teammates, and things like the explosive potential of the offense.
None of them did unless specifically promoted. Each answered by talking about intangibles
“Leadership,” Ridley said is the major difference. “I think the leadership on this team is pretty good. We have some guys who are buying in right away and we’re trying to get the younger guys buy in, and I think we’re going to a good team.
“I know I gotta do better this year for my team and offense so we can get to where we want to be.”
This year it’s Atlanta, where the national championship will be decided on Jan. 8. Alabama could potentially play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium three times, including the high-profile season opener against Florida State on Sept. 2 and the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 2.
With the Sugar Bowl hosting a semifinal, the Crimson Tide could play the entire College Football Playoff without traveling more than four hours from Tuscaloosa.
But only if Alabama wants it enough.
“You always learn from a loss, and if you don’t, then that’s on you,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re definitely using the motivation, and we’re not letting small things slide. That’s the reason we lost last year because we let little things slide towards the end of the season and the championship game.
“We lost because of small details.”
That answer alone should make the other 13 SEC teams in the league worry.