How impressive was AJ McCarron’s performance against LSU in the BCS title game? He had surgery on his shoulder three days later. In fact, McCarron’s whole season was pretty remarkable, and not just because he led Alabama to the national championship as a first-year starter. On Sept. 24, on the seventh play against Arkansas, he dislocated the shoulder on his throwing arm and sprained the AC joint and the labrum. He was often in so much pain that he couldn’t practice. Yet, when then-Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain told him that the gameplan for the rematch with the Tigers would involve a heavy dose of passing, McCarron just bit down on a chunk of leather and let it fly.
"The most important thing we've learned is you got to stay on top of the little things,'' Saban said. "Things don't happen by accident. You don't win a play by accident. You don't win a game by accident. You don't win a division by accident. You have to make it happen, and you have to make it happen by what you do every day. Your commitment, everything in the organization, to the principles and values of the organization, and the standard that you have set for that organization, become primary in the development of team chemistry. "If everybody doesn't buy into those principles and values, everybody doesn't buy into the standard, there's no way you can have the type of team chemistry to be successful, especially at an elite, high level. High achievers don't like mediocre people, mediocre people don't like high achievers. So everybody has to buy into the same principles and values.''
It would have been easy for Barrett Jones to object to another position change. And yet there was Jones, who from his left tackle position in 2011 racked up individual honors and helped Alabama to its second national championship in three years, taking the field in spring drills as the Crimson Tide’s first-team center earlier this year. "We needed a center this year, and I’m more than happy to play center," Jones said matter-of-factly Thursday during Alabama’s session at SEC media days.
"Certainly we take a lot of pride in our offensive line play, and we do feel like whoever we plug in there, we're going to have success," Jones said. "We've got four starters coming back, and we feel really, really good about what we're doing up front and confident in our communication, which is so key. Sometimes the best offensive lines aren't the ones that are the most talented but the ones who communicate the best. "This year, obviously we have a ton of talent, and when you combine that with communication, hopefully we'll have the best offensive line that I've ever been a part of."
He's a fine practice and game-day coach, but the thing that has elevated Saban to sports royalty is his ability to bring America's best football players to Tuscaloosa. That's the secret, and that's the thing every other Southeastern Conference coach is trying to catch up with. Saban does it by promising to make them NFL-ready and to compete for championships, and if you don't believe it, son, then sign with another team and get ready for an annual reminder. "Guys understand that: 'I'm fortunate. For this guy to come down and recruit me and want me to be a part of this machine he's trying to put together,' that's the feeling that you get," Alabama defensive lineman Damion Square said.
The thing is, though, everything doesn't always go right and there is no mathematical way for everything to go right for 12 teams in a 14-team league. Someone is going to be a disappointment, possibly a major disappointment, and not every coach in the league can survive being a major disappointment. That is why a few of next year's confident coaches will be new faces, not the same ones that were confident earlier this week.
Looking forward: What does the SEC look like in 2022? Are Oklahoma or North Carolina State members of the SEC? Will there be four divisions? How many households subscribe to the soon-to-come SEC Network? Does the conference still reside in Birmingham, or does Atlanta steal it away? "Well, I hope it looks like it looks today," Slive said. "You know, things will change, there will be different issues, different opportunities, and our goal is to make sure that we're prepared for whatever comes. "I've talked often about this being a golden age for us, and it really is in many ways both on and off the field. Now things could change in a heartbeat, and that's why I keep talking about being vigilant and being careful and being smart about what we do and how we do it."
LSU extended an offer Tuesday. To an eight-grader. Not a kid who will start high school in two months, mind you, but rather a kid (literally) who just finished the seventh grade. His name is Dylan Moses. He stands 6'0, weighs 218 pounds ... and reportedly ran a sub-4.5 40-yard dash.