Hoover, Ala.–Let me see if I have this right.
In 2014 Alabama went 12-1 during the regular season and won its 24th Southeastern Conference championship. The Crimson Tide’s only regular-season loss was at Ole Miss (23-17), a team that spent a lot of time in the Top 10 all season.
Alabama was the No. 1 seed in the first-ever college football playoff. In the national semifinals the Tide ran into a hot team in Ohio State, which beat Alabama and went on to win the national championship.
So 12-2 and another SEC championship. All in all it was another great year for Alabama, right?
It sure didn’t feel that way on Wednesday when Alabama made its appearance at SEC Media Days.
Nick Saban, who has won three national championships in Tuscaloosa, spent a lot of time answering questions about what Alabama did wrong, particularly at the end of the season.
“We did not finish the season the way we wanted to last year in terms of the way we played,” said Saban, whose team beat Auburn (55-44) in the Iron Bowl, Missouri (42-13) in the SEC championship game, and then lost to Ohio State (42-35) in New Orleans. “We turned the ball over too much. We gave up too many explosive plays on defense. We gave up too many points because of a combination of all those things.”
“We’re not allowed to have a bad season,” said linebacker Reggie Ragland, “because the fans will let you know when you’re playing badly.”
Saban threw out the fact that he was not particularly happy that many of his players got their draft evaluations during preparations for the Sugar Bowl.
“Our team chemistry from the SEC Championship game game to the playoff game was effected by something,” Saban said. “I think it would be better not to submit that information to a player until after he has finished competing in college.”
For that, Saban was taken to task by the national media for making excuses. And so it goes.
A lot of time was spent on Wednesday talking about the challenges this Alabama team will face, from finding a new quarterback, to rebuilding the offensive line, to improving a secondary that struggled a lot on third down last season.
Still, when the assembled media makes its predictions on Thursday, Alabama is expected to be picked to win the SEC West. Go figure.
Some other notes and quotes from Wednesday’s session of SEC Media Days:
**–Saban is sure of one thing. He is not going to be happy if his defense stays on the field as much as it did in 2014. All total, opponents ran 945 plays against Alabama last season, which meant the defense was on the field for 171 more plays than it was the season before.
“(That) is like a couple, three more games,” said Saban. “I think we have to manage the season better with our team because I think at the end of the season last year we ran out of gas a little bit. We’re going to have to do a better job of keeping our team where they need to be so that we can finish strong.”
**–Missouri coach Gary Pinkel swears he has no idea where the media picked his team to finish in the preseason the past two years. Here’s the answer:
In 2013, Missouri’s second year in the conference, the media picked the Tigers to finish sixth in SEC East. Missouri went 7-1 to win the division and lost to Auburn 59-42 in the conference championship game in Atlanta.
In 2014 the media remained unconvinced about the Tigers and picked them to finish fourth in the SEC East. The Tigers went 7-1 again (the only loss was at home to Georgia) and went to Atlanta, where they lost to Alabama 42-13.
So it will be interesting to see where the Tigers are picked when media predictions are released on Thursday. if Pinkel is concerned about a lack of respect, he didn’t show it when he addressed the media on Wednesday.
“I think it probably bothers my players a little bit more than me,” said Pinkel, who is beginning his 15th season at Mizzou. “I really don’t go there. I’ll tell you how you get respect is graduating your players, developing our students into young men, and winning football games. That is how you get respect.”
Over the past five seasons Missouri has won 46 football games and, according to Pinkel, graduated 92 percent of the program’s seniors.
Pinkel was right. The Missouri players do take it personally.
“We are going to be disrespected,” said senior quarterback Maty Mauk. “We are going to be on the bottom of everybody’s polls and it’s something we can’t control so we aren’t even going to worry about it.”
**–Kentucky started the 2014 season at 5-1, the one loss being in triple overtime at Florida. Then the schedule got real and the Wildcats lost to six straight teams that all went to bowls. Kentucky had to stay home at 5-7.
Coach Mark Stoops, set to begin his third year in Lexington, knows that getting to a bowl this season will be an important marker of the program’s progress.
“I don’t want anybody to take away from our team’s improvement from a year ago,” said Stoops, whose 2014 team went 2-6 in SEC play after going 0-8 in his first year. “We have a long way to go. I knew what I was doing when I took this job, and I’m very optimistic about where we’re at and where we are going.”
Kentucky’s administration is obviously optimistic about its football program. The school is in the final stages of a $120 million facelift to Commonwealth Stadium. The school is also breaking ground on a new $45 million office and training complex.
**–Arkansas coach Bret Bielema knows where his bread is buttered. That’s why the cover of the 2015 media guide features the five starters on the Hogs’ offensive line. With heights and weights they are:
Dan Skipper ( 6-10, 307)
Frank Ragnow (6-5, 311)
Mitch Smothers (6-3, 315)
Sebastian Tretola (6-5, 322)
Denver Kirkland (6-5, 343),
If you’re keeping score at home that’s 1,598 pounds of Hog or an average of 319.6 per player.
Bielema, himself an old offensive lineman, has always made the big guys up front among the featured players in his program.
“I think the No. 1 reason is that I believe in a foundation,” said Bielema, whose team finished 7-6 (2-6 SEC) after going 0-8 in the SEC the year before. “I believe (the offensive line) is something that is not going to just be graduated or move in or move out overnight.”
On deck for Thursday will be Georgia, Ole Miss, and LSU.