HOOVER, Ala. — From Alabama's point of view, the timing of this year's ESPYs could have been better.
Hours after ESPN aired its annual awards show Wednesday night -- with Auburn's "Kick Six" triumph in November's Iron Bowl winning "play of the year" and "game of the year" distinction -- Crimson Tide players were having to relive the nightmare further.
"It comes up every day," Tide junior safety Landon Collins said as SEC media days drew to a close. "It's shown on TV constantly, and it eats at our heart every day. I get sick when I see it. I have to turn the TV."
Auburn's 34-28 victory as time expired derailed an Alabama locomotive that had won its first 11 games by the average score of 40-9. While the 109-yard return by Auburn cornerback Chris Davis keeps serving as this recurring loop of a bad dream, it also is a scene from which Alabama players can learn.
"Everyone knows that the Auburn game was a snap away from the SEC championship and a snap away from the national championship, and that really humbles you as a team," senior receiver and return specialist Christion Jones said. "It lets you know that no one can be complacent, no matter who it is, and it makes you want to fight more every game this year.
"Once you win two titles back to back, it gets harder to find the hunger to chase after it. We played well in a lot of games, but we didn't do it the same way we did it in 2011 and 2012."
National championships are how Alabama seasons are judged under coach Nick Saban, who has led the Crimson Tide to the summit in three of the past five seasons. This year's team has seven returning offensive starters under new coordinator Lane Kiffin and five defensive starters.
Gone are some household names such as quarterback AJ McCarron, tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, kicker Cade Foster, linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, but the Crimson Tide were still the pick Thursday to win this year's conference race, outdistancing their state rivals.
"Our situation as a team is a lot different this year than it's been the last couple of years when we were coming off championship seasons," Saban said. "The challenges were so much different in terms of trying to deal with success and complacency. Having lost our last two games last year, there is a little different mindset with our players.
"We have to re-establish our identity as a team at Alabama, and it's going to take every player to have a tremendous amount of buy-in for us to be able to do that. You basically need to check your ego at the door."
Fifth-year senior Blake Sims emerged as the top quarterback in spring practice, but that competition now has Jacob Coker, who transferred to Tuscaloosa after graduating from Florida State in May. Saban was asked about the perception that Coker already has won the job, but he said that was not the perception within the program.
"Blake really did a pretty good job in the spring," Saban said. "He didn't play great in the spring game, but we really didn't do the things that he's capable of doing."
Whoever emerges at quarterback will have a loaded tailback position headed by junior T.J. Yeldon and sophomore Derrick Henry. Saban said third-string tailback Kenyan Drake, who had two 100-yard rushing games last season, has been suspended following his arrest for interfering with a crime scene earlier this month but has not been kicked off the team.
Defensive tackle Jarran Reed, a junior college transfer who recently was charged with DUI, also is suspended from all activities in a program looking to atone for last season -- a season the Tide continually are reminded of by the "Kick Six."
"It's given us motivation," Collins said. "We're working harder, because we don't want to have a heartbreak like that come up again."
Saban on being a grandfather: "My only concern so far with the grandbaby is when she does go to kindergarten. If she walks in and doesn't get a standing ovation, how is she going to respond to that? She gets a lot of attention at our house." ... Junior receiver Amari Cooper on Alabama fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium: "It seems like they love the game more than the players." ... Saban said schools are going to be limited to five NFL early-round grades for juniors due to the volume of requests. Alabama had 11 juniors last year request information.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...