Alabama's mantra: Don't 'settle' for 10 wins again
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Alabama's expectations have gotten so routinely lofty that "Remember 2010'' has become something of a rallying cry this spring.
Ten wins, three losses? How depressing for a program that seems to be entering every season lately with national championship expectations - not just aspirations - among players, coaches and fans.
Slack off, and the Crimson Tide might just have to deal with barely managing double-digit wins again. Remember 2010?
"That wasn't a good year,'' Tide linebacker Nico Johnson said. "We lost to South Carolina, LSU, Auburn. It was different. We don't want that to ever happen again. What we do year in and year out is try to get to a national championship. If we don't get there, it's kind of depressing. We're trying to prevent that from happening.''
A steady haul of some of the nation's top recruits have left no shortage of talent, even with five potential first-round NFL draft picks departing from a program that has won two of the last three national titles. Alabama will still almost certainly be on the short list of potential contenders going into next season.
The cupboards remain sufficiently well-stocked that coach Nick Saban and his players talk more about work ethic and attitude as the biggest factors, not that talent exodus.
The comparisons to the 2010 team that started out No. 1 but couldn't sustain the same cohesion and consistency are ample. That team lost 12 starters on offense and defense, including two first-rounders; this group must replace 11 starters. Both times the heaviest losses were on defense, Saban's specialty.
"Everybody thought we would end up just being the same team, that nothing would ever change,'' Saban said. "Every team has a personality and every team has strengths and weaknesses. I think this team is completely different than the 2010 team.
"In some ways, the strengths of this team are different. The character and attitude of this team has been different, I think in a good way,'' he added. "There's still a lot that this team has to prove in terms of how hungry they are and how willing they are to make the sacrifices that we need them to make to have the kind of team that we're capable of having.''
Saban said he's not sure being able to reload and maintain at a title contender level is necessarily realistic. Of course, then again that's pretty much expected for a coach who just got a bump up to $5.6 million a year.
Sure, there are high school All-Americans and five-star recruits in position to replace stars like tailback Trent Richardson, safety Mark Barron, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw.
If this team has one edge over the 2010 group, it's that many of the veterans have been through it before. They've spoken repeatedly about the complacency and sense of entitlement that created issues two years ago.
The consequences: A lackluster effort at South Carolina, a three-point defeat at LSU and a blown 24-point lead against Auburn.
"We didn't have a lot of leadership,'' said quarterback AJ McCarron, who was a redshirt freshman in 2010. "We had a lot of great players coming back, but I think the team kind of felt like everybody went their own personal way, tried to look out for (themselves) following the `09 season and help their draft status personally.
"What a lot of guys lose is, when they're going through that process, is that if the team wins, a lot more guys get drafted. You get drafted off the success of the team, not just personal success. It's hard to do that. A lot of guys know that.''
Some uncertainties remain. Can Eddie Lacy or another candidate follow in the footsteps of star tailbacks Richardson and 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram? Will young or unproven receivers step, especially if suspended Duron Carter isn't reinstated?
Who steps in for three departed starters in both the secondary and linebacking corps?
Despite the prevalent theme of avoiding the pitfalls of 2010, Saban scoffs at comparing the two teams, including whether this group is hungrier to sustain the success.
"It's ridiculous for me to stand here and try to compare this team to the 2009 team or the 2010 team,'' he said. "They're completely different. Completely different. Completely different personalities, completely different people, and guys that have had a whole lot different experiences.
"The choice is what these guys want to do with this team.''