Motivation is what Alabama head coach Nick Saban thrives on. It’s how he’s built his modern day dynasty in Tuscaloosa, a dynasty that is winners of three of the last four national championships. Think about that for a minute.
The Tide are looking to reload and make yet another return to the title, led by a veteran offense and one of the most talented rosters – player-for-player – in the country. Perhaps it’s the most talented?
But Alabama pulling off a trifecta – three-peat – is not a matter of talent or playmakers; it’s not a matter of having the right coaching staff, and it’s not a matter of strength of schedule. The Tide clearly have all the physical components of another crown.
Rather, Saban’s main obstacle looms between the ears of a team that knows it’s a dynasty, a team and program that has been lauded for the last four months.
How is he going to motivate a team that has won two straight national championships? Can Saban find what makes his team tick in 2013?
Coming off the Tide’s 2009 championship team, a more talented and veteran-filled roster returned in 2010 looking for back-to-back crowns. But despite all the talent and an NFL-filled roster, Alabama failed to make a championship run. Why? Because the Tide boasted individual players and never could accomplish the ‘team’ aspect of winning. The lack of leadership sunk the ship, ultimately leading to a three-loss season.
Alabama faced similar circumstances coming off 2011’s national championship run, but Barrett Jones and Nico Johnson, among others, held the team together with veteran leadership and helped motivate a younger roster and encourage six new starters on defense to elevate their play, ultimately leading to another championship.
Saban also used the 2009-2010 seasons as a warning and motivating factor for the 2012 team. The warning was heeded, and the result was back-to-back titles, prompting a dominant 42-14 beat down over lame-duck Notre Dame.
But Saban has never faced back-to-back championship teams looking for a three-peat, and motivation will be a primary obstacle. Incoming recruits, freshmen and sophomores woke up on third base, not knowing how they got there. That’s what it’s like. Young players who have never played meaningful minutes for the Tide are wearing two championship rings.
Thankfully Alabama has a veteran quarterback who has leadership skills arguably north of anyone in college football. AJ McCarron isn’t the most talented quarterback in the country – he’ll gladly tell you he’s not, but when the game is on the line on the country’s biggest stage, McCarron wants the ball. And Alabama trusts him with the ball. McCarron will go down as Alabama’s best quarterback ever.
Would Saban joke around with any other current player like McCarron? I don’t think so. This video is a unique look into the human side of Saban that most don’t get to see, and the comfort level he has with his star quarterback.
The Tide have a first-round talent at linebacker in CJ Mosley, who is returning for his senior season. Mosley will help oversee a defense that lost five starters, including top-five talent Dee Milliner and three defensive linemen. Mosley assumes the leadership role on defense. He’ll be key, like Johnson was in 2012, in helping drive younger players to heighten their level of play.
Exiting spring, Saban says the Tide ‘aren’t where they need to be yet’. That’s not surprising for a coach like Saban to tell you his program hasn’t accomplished everything he’d like, even after championships and becoming one of the country’s biggest NFL factories, via AL.
“I wasn’t happy with any of those teams at this point,” Saban said. “If I was happy with them, we wouldn’t have summer conditioning, we would not have fall camp, we wouldn’t have 30 practices to get ready for our first game against Virginia Tech. We’d just pack it in and say, ‘All right, let’s go to Atlanta and play the game.’ We’re not there yet.
“I’m not disappointed in where we are right now. I don’t want anybody to think that. But I’m not satisfied with where we are either. We have a high standard of what we want to do.”
That high standard has set multiple goals, with roads ultimately leading to three championships in a row, and for Saban, it’s ‘simple’ really.
“It’s going to come down to our ability to make progress in that area, to become a disciplined team that has the mental and physical toughness to dominate the competition every play in the game for 60 minutes in the game,” he said. “It’s very simple.”
Mental and physical toughness and the response, want-to and desire to get better with spring in the rearview all boils down to one word: motivation.
The Crimson Tide enter uncharted waters in 2013, but then again, a modern day dynasty with so much parity in college football is already sailing in foreign waters.
Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports