The Alabama football team returned to the practice field Wednesday, its first football work since winning the Southeastern Conference Championship with a 29-15 win over Florida a week and a half ago. Bama Coach Nick Saban doesn’t want his team being satisfied with that. He wants the focus on the future.
That future is the semifinal round of the College Football Playoff on Dec. 31 against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
If there is any looking back it will be on last year’s College Football Playoff, which was the first. The Crimson Tide is the only team in this year’s second edition of the format that can learn from what it did last year, since Alabama is the only repeat team from 2015.
It is not a good memory. Ohio State defeated Alabama, 42-35, in the Sugar Bowl and the Buckeyes went on to win the national championship. After it was over Saban said he thought last year’s team had distractions that kept it from playing well in the game. That was generally taken to be that some players on the 2015 team were distracted by the prospects of being drafted by a National Football League team.
Saban was asked about limiting those distractions this year. He said, “I don't know that we can control it all. I think it's up to the individual players staying focused on what's happening right now.”
He also said he thinks it is in the best interest of a player looking forward to a professional player to apply himself through the end of the season. “I think the history here has been guys that play well here and finish well here actually move up. Guys that don't finish well don't, and move down in some cases. This is not something that I feel like players are really that focused on this year.”
To the contrary, he said, “This team seems to really be focused on the opportunity that they have. I didn't feel like this team was as committed at this point last year, and we obviously didn't show that in how we prepared and how we played in the game.
We're playing a really good team. I think everybody respects the team we're playing.”
He had more about the loss to Ohio State.
“We certainly didn't do a good job last year,” he said. “I felt like our players did not approach the game like a playoff game. They approached it more like a bowl game, which was obviously not our intention, not what we tried to sell to them as far as what they needed to do. I think they felt a little entitled when they won the SEC championship.
“This is a new season. So when you get into a new season, what you've done in the past doesn't have anything to do with what you'll do moving forward. It's hard to carry the momentum of the season into a game that's three-and-a-half, four weeks from the last time you played. So the players need to refocus.
“They can be happy about what they've accomplished, but they also can't be satisfied. I asked the players, 'Are you satisfied? And not only are you not satisfied, are you willing to do the work you need to do to play really good teams like we're going to have to play in playoffs?' There's no easy way to do that. Based on how they started out today, I would say that part of their attitude is a lot better.”
So far, so good, then. Of course, there have been just a couple of hours of practice and Bama has not yet gotten into the game plan for the Spartans.
“It was kind of good to get the players back and I think they were anxious to get started working,” Saban said. “We're certainly anxious to get started with them. The energy and enthusiasm was good. The focus seemed to be good. The challenge for these games is always how do you maintain your focus. How can you maintain the focus that you have these first few practices.
“We'll certainly work on fundamentals and trying to get guys back into condition. Get a lot of reps to try to get the turns to get them back to where they need to be and knock the rust off a little bit.
“Obviously too early to tell where we're at, but I was pleased with the effort and the intensity that we had in practice today.”
He said there are no injury issues.