There are still lessons to be learned from the 2010 season. The question is, are we still paying attention?
As disappointing seasons go, 2010 is the one in which all seasons will be compared to when it comes to the Saban era at Alabama. Yes, 2007 was pretty gawd awful (Bama finished 7-6) and 2008 hurt because of the losses to UF and Utah to end the season. Honestly though, expectations weren't that high during Saban's first two years and most rational ‘Bama fans were just happy to be good again ('08) and thankful to have a good coach walking the sideline ('07).
The fact is though the 2010 team gets a lot of unreasonable grief heaped on its head. Yes, 9-3 is bad but how many teams would kill to be 9-3 every year? I would say about 95% of them. It also doesn't help that 2010 was maybe, probably, just the most awful, screw job of a schedule ever. But I regress.
Looking back, the pain of the 2010 season is/was quickly masked by the jubilation of 2011 and 2012. What better way to kill ALL the sorrow but with back to back National Championships? Amiright? But regardless, that season was painful thanks to a rather embarrassing loss to USCe and two 4th quarter meltdowns to LSU and Auburn. What may be most frustrating is that 'Bama was just 4 points shy of playing in the SEC Championship game and possible return to the BCS title game..FOUR. POINTS.
And with all that we still look at 2010 as a disappointment. It sure is a great time to be a 'Bama fan ain't it?
So, what happened in 2010? With so much talent returning from the 2009 National Championship team, 2010 seemed to be poised for a repeat. Was it just a fluke season or could it happen again? Have the demons been erased? Is 2013 set up for a similar fate? I know this topic has been beat to death but on the eve yet another Spring following a National Championship season we need to look to the past and to see if we can tell the future.
Returning starters/contributors for each season.
2009 National Championship team:
Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Preston Dial, Brad Smelley, Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks, Julio Jones, Michael Williams, James Carpenter, William Vlachos, Barrett Jones.
That's pretty much an entire offense. Let's just forget for a minute we had a returning Heisman trophy winner, a two year starter at QB and the greatest WR ever at Bama...Really the only positions ‘Bama needed to fill was OG and OT and those two spots were eventually filled by Warmack and DJ Fluker. Not bad replacements at all.
Luther Davis, Josh Chapman, Marcell Dareus, Chris Jordan, Dont'a Hightower, Nico Johnson, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron.
Obviously, CB was a major concern going into the 2010 season with 0 starters returning. Only Dre Kirkpatrick saw any meaningful playing time and that was mostly on special teams.
2012 National Championship team
AJ McCarron, Kenny Bell, Amari Cooper, Christion Jones, Cyrus Kouandjo, Kevin Norwood, Anthony Steen, TJ Yeldon, DeAndrew White (Throw in Jalston Fowler, Blake Sims and Kenyan Drake)
Much like 2010, Alabama's biggest question mark on offense in 2013 will be on the offensive line. We have a returning 2 time National Title winning QB and a stable of running backs that would make the Kentucky Derby blush. We may not have a Heisman winner returning, but Yeldon is supposed to win the next 3, right? And when compared to 2010, the 2013 WR core may actually be better. So, who will be the next DJ Fuker and Chance Warmack? Can this offense be stopped?
Deion Belue, Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, Trey DePriest, Ed Stinson, Denzel Devall, Xzavier Dickson, Adrian Hubbard, John Fulton, Brandon Ivory, CJ Mosley, Geno Smith, Nick Perry, Vinnie Sunseri.
Unlike in 2010, the 2013 defense returns a starter and a good deal of experience at every level. Sure there are holes to fill (NT and Safety) but there is experience returning at CB and a wealth of experience at DT and LB. Outside of the '09 and '11 defenses, this is the experienced defense Saban has had.
So, what went wrong in 2010?
Besides at CB and O-line, if experience wasn't the problem in '10, why did the team under achieve? Well the answer is rather simple and has been debated ad museum - Injuries.
We didn't have the ACL type injuries which plagued the 2012 squad. It was ankle injuries which ravaged the defensive front seven putting more pressure on the young secondary to make plays they just weren't ready to make yet.. Dont'a Hightower was never 100% following his 2009 knee injury and Dareus and Upshaw were both hampered with nagging injuries all year and weren't able to be as effective rushing the QB as we had hoped. If you can't rush the QB, and your secondary has holes, bad things are bound to happen. It's science.
Also, injuries on offense weren't to be avoided. Both Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram dealt with knee injuries throughout the year. Add the fact the O-line took longer to jell then most expected and you had an ineffective offense. Honestly, it wasn't until late January when the team looked fully healthy and ready to finally live up to the hype.
The other key issue surrounding the 2010 team was apparently in their motivation and preparation. Overcoming injuries is one thing but when a team begins a season feeling entitled - again, bad things happen.
"Finishing is a big thing for this team," Saban said speaking about the upcoming 2011 season. "I don't think we finished well last year (2010) whether it was plays, games, season or however you want to look at it. I think that's all about mindset. It doesn't really have anything to do with how fast you run or how high you jump."
"They are hungry because some of them were embarrassed," Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said during Alabama's media day last week. "Some of them didn't play as well as they should have last year, and they want to play better this year. There were a lot of lessons that our guys learned last year, especially defensively, and we were a young team. I expect them to grow up. I assure you, if they're not hungry, that's our job to put an end to that."
Emphasis mine. It has become glaringly obvious that Coach Saban has learned from the "failures" of 2010 and has made his "24 hour rule" an integral part of the Alabama program.
"Well, two days and we're going to start on next year," Saban said following the 2012 National Championship game. "We've got a 24-hour rule around here... but I'm proud of these guys, man. I'm happy for them. As a coach, I want to win the game for them. I want them to be able to win the game and say their legacy as a team, 10, 20 years from now they can say they won a national championship."
The man is literally already thinking about the next season....minutes after winning yet another national title. How can you not just love this guy?
The so-called disappointments of the 2010 season were a mixed of bag of poor scheduling, tons of injuries combined with inexperience at key positions and perhaps a bit of entitlement early on. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. We saw glimpses throughout the season that when the 2010 team was focused, it could beat anyone — 1st half against Auburn; Capital One Bowl.
What can we expect in 2013?
Honestly? No one knows. History tells us 'Bama is the leading candidate to 3-peat but there are still lessons to be learned from 2010 and having such lofty expectations.
As a player or coach you can't predict, or even avoid, certain types of injuries. All you (coaches) can do is try and get everyone as many reps as possible so the back-ups know their job if called upon. And honestly, the moment a player starts to worry about a freak injury is the moment he is most vulnerable. You play hard. You play fast. And you pray you make it out healthy. So, when determining the possible success of an upcoming season, injuries are just something you offer sacrifices to avoid...They aren't something you plan for.
Outside the issues surrounding the arrests of the Skittles Four, who here believes that Alabama won't be mentally or physically prepared come September? Saban preaches the Process©; Do your job and focus on the next play not the outcome. Well, the only way a player can control his own "process" is in his preparation.. It's about the time he puts into the weight room and in film study. Luckily for Alabama, from the 4th Quarter off-season program, to support staff, to hiring motivational speakers, Saban puts more effort into preparing his players mentally than 99% of his colleagues.
The good news so far for the 2013 squad is that coach Saban seems relatively pleased — for now.
"I really like where our team is, how they've worked during the off-season conditioning program," he said. "It's a work in progress, so we'll see how the chemistry and things develop as we go through spring practice, summer conditioning and fall camp.
"It takes time."
The 2013 season, especially the schedule, sets up perfectly and if this team chooses to avoid the demons of 2010 then the possibility of 'back to back to back' National Titles is very real. The encouraging thought, based on the last two seasons, is this —
It's 100% up to them and Saban is still our coach.
Hope for the best.