The Final Question for 2012: Motivation

So far this pre-season, we’ve taken a look at three big questions facing the Crimson Tide this year:

For me, there was one final question that needed to be answered heading into 2012:  How motivated will the Tide be after winning two BCS titles in the last three years?

I guess I’m assuming that the Tide would be somewhat unmotivated.  It seems reasonable that winning two national championships in three years could change the mindset of the team.  Winning often does that to folks.  It can make them proud. It can make them thankful. It can make them tired. It can make them feel entitled. It can make them sorry as a bum.  It can make them satisfied.

But it rarely makes them more hungry.

I can tell you from first hand experience, as a fan, winning two BCS titles in three years has made me flat out sorry. My belly is full. I am satisfied. My questions are answered. I am a happy man. My team has won more titles in three years than most teams will win in a fan’s lifetime. So, as a fan, I can completely understand (well, not really, but I want to make this sound good) if certain folks on the team are satisfied. They are the ones who have worked and sacrificed to get the job done. It’s (somewhat) understandable if they got complacent or didn’t work as hard.

And when I look at the schedule, I see the Tide being favorites in 11 of the 12 games and the LSU game is close to a toss-up. The Tide lost lots of great players from last year’s team, but you could argue that each position group is more talented this year than last (with running back being the only close argument). For the opener with Michigan, the Tide has the clear advantage at every single position versus the Wolverines (and, yes, that includes quarterback). Same for Arkansas, except for quarterback, and talent-wise, Bama certainly isn’t any less loaded than LSU.

And, again, from my perspective, those three opponents have something Bama may not have this year: that burning desire in their gut from unfinished business.

Michigan is still recovering from the RichRod experiment and had a good year under first-year coach Brady Hoke. But you can bet they aren’t satisfied. Ohio State has rubbed their noses in it for most of the last decade and their conference has been humiliated nationally. You can bet they think they have something to prove and they’d like nothing better than to take down the Tide in game one of 2012.

Arkansas is 0-5 against Saban. During the past five losses, they’ve come close a couple of times and had their tails stomped a couple of times. The Nuttster couldn’t do it and Bobby Petrino couldn’t do it. They’ve beaten LSU, they’ve beaten Georgia and they’ve even beaten Auburn, but they haven’t beaten the Tide and they think they are due. They think they can win a championship – even with John L. Smith –  if they can beat the Tide. Their whole season points toward this game.

And LSU got their tails whipped in the national championship game. They didn’t just lose, they looked inept and ill-prepared in the process (well, they didn’t just look like it, they were inept and ill-prepared).  They went from possibly the “greatest team of all-time” to a mess in the span of four quarters.  Sometimes teams wait for years to get another crack at a foe that humiliated them on the national stage. The Tigers don’t have to wait. They’ll get the Tide the first Saturday in November. They won’t just be playing for the win, they’ll be playing to regain respect. You can bet they thought of the Tide every day this summer.

But after hearing these comments from coach Saban’s press conference this week, I’m not sure I’m asking the right question anymore:

“Everybody’s going to say if the team doesn’t play well, that’s because they feel entitled. But I can tell you from everything they’ve done from how they reported to fall camp, conditioning test being the tops that we’ve ever had and the work ethic and all that. If this team isn’t successful it’s not going to be because of the character and the attitude of the team. It’s going to be because of the lack of experience the team has at certain positions and they may make too many mistakes to win it.”

After reading this quote, my questions about the motivation of the 2012 team were answered.

I believe that this team – coaches and players – understand their position in history.  They understand that defending the title in 2010 didn’t go so well.  They understand how rare this opportunity is – to play the season to defend a title – and I’m sure they’ve done the best they could to address the upcoming season and its challenges.

As coach Saban noted above, it may be that we lose a game because we are inexperienced or because we make a mistake at the wrong time.  I don’t think this is the “blame it on youth” excuse we hear every year from some teams.  In Bama’s case, youth means replacing players like All-Americans Dre Kirkpatrick and Dequan Menzie with younger players, players who haven’t played as much or players who are new to the team.  It’s hard to replace special players like that, and with the defensive system that Alabama runs, it’s just plain hard to replace older players.

So let’s relax.  The team has been very successful under Saban, but it has worked hard this off season.  The team is loaded with talent, but it’s hard to  replace a bunch of All-Americans.  The system is in place and the train is rolling, but that doesn’t mean the 2012 Tide will be perfect.  The season is about to begin.  Let’s enjoy this time.  It’ll be over before you know it.