By MIKE McCALL
July 23, 2012
HOOVER, Ala. — The last time Alabama entered the season looking to defend a national title, it was 2010.
Ask defensive lineman Damion Square what went wrong that year, and it just pours out of him.
“The complacency that took place, the thoughts and arguments we got into as a team, the division as a team from offense to defense, guys not believing in certain players, and players believing they were at the top of their peak and couldn’t get better,” Square said.
More concisely — and stay with me here, because I know it’s hard to believe anyone from Alabama behaving this way — the Crimson Tide felt entitled to the title.
Instead, they fell to South Carolina, LSU and Auburn and landed in the Capital One Bowl, not exactly a fairy-tale ending.
“Losing three games is an embarrassment,” tight end Michael Williams said.
Truth be told, things may not turn out much differently this time around.
The Tide lost 12 starters, including the SEC’s best rusher in Trent Richardson, who set a school record with 1,679 yards.
Gone also are top wideout Marquis Maze and three first-round picks on defense: safety Mark Barron, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
What’s more, they’ll have to travel to both of the SEC West’s other powers, LSU and Arkansas.
All that makes repeating far from a sure thing, as if it wasn’t already hard enough to do. No team has gone back-to-back in the BCS era, and only three — 2000 Florida State, 2002 Miami and 2005 USC (although officially that last one never happened) — have made it back to the title game.
But at least if Alabama slips up this year, it won’t be because of complacency.
“This team seems to be less affected by the previous year,” coach Nick Saban said.
Saban preached that to the 2010 team too, but the message didn’t take hold.
Center Barrett Jones says things are different now, and the team’s leaders are doing their part to spread the message.
“The 2012 Alabama team has zero wins and zero losses,” Jones said. “We have a lot to prove and we have a target on our back.”
Of course, it’s easier to avoid feeling like the title favorite when you aren’t.
That distinction belongs to LSU, which earned just shy of double the amount of votes (129) as Alabama (65) in the pre-season media poll for who would win the SEC.
This presents an interesting dynamic for the SEC West title race, between the still-steaming powerhouse Bayou Bengals, the defending-champ-turned-slight-underdog Tide, and the Razorbacks, who watched what should have been a smooth, easy ride into this season go skidding off into a ditch.
With all the variables and uncertainties that are in play, Alabama is focusing on the one familiar foe it can control: complacency.
“We’re not going to let it happen twice,” Square said.
It’s easy to imagine that LSU is thinking the same thing.