Alabama chasing more than just history

Nick Saban and Alabama are going for a third consecutive crystal football this season. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

They’re all chasing Alabama, and not just in the SEC.

Oregon, USC and Ohio State are. Ditto for Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Florida State.

The Crimson Tide have pocketed three of the past four national championships, including the past two, and are dead-set on winning a few more.

Remember offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio's proclamation after the 42-14 blistering of Notre Dame two months ago in the Discover BCS National Championship Game?

“We’re going for it next year again ... and again and again and again,” Kouandjio said.

It’s the way they roll at Alabama, particularly since Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007.

But while everybody else is chasing the Crimson Tide, they’re involved in a chase of their own.

Some might say they’re chasing history. More precisely, they’re chasing a standard, one that is handed down year by year and cuts to the very core of what Saban’s “process” is all about.

“That’s why one of our famous sayings at Alabama is, 'We don’t play football. We live it,'" said quarterback AJ McCarron, who has a chance to win a fourth national championship ring.

“That says a lot about our program and the way Coach Saban handles the guys on our team. You’ve got to be able to handle success, and best way to do that is that every time you step out onto the field, you’re pushing for greatness.”

That pursuit started all over again about 48 hours after Alabama’s players and coaches returned home from South Florida back in January. It resumes in earnest on March 16 when Alabama opens spring practice.

The Crimson Tide will almost certainly start the 2013 season ranked No. 1. No school has won three consecutive outright national championships since Minnesota all the way back in 1934-36, according to the NCAA's official website.

And while the Alabama players have been well-trained to live (and play) in the moment, they’re well aware of what awaits them next season.

The expectations, not to mention the pressure to collect another crystal football, will be enormous.

But they seem to like it that way.

“It’s like Coach Saban always says, ‘We created this beast, so you don’t complain about it,’” said McCarron, who’s 25-2 as a starter. “We set the standard this high. I think it brings the best out of you as a player and as a person on and off the field. You have to carry yourself with that much more pride.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re on the field or off of it. Everybody’s gunning to beat us, and everybody’s watching us. All eyes are on us at all times. It’s one of the best things about playing here. Everybody expects greatness.”

Linebacker C.J. Mosley, like McCarron, decided to come back for his senior season after considering a jump to the NFL. In a lot of ways, he’s to Alabama’s defense what McCarron is to the offense.

“We go into every game expecting to get that team’s best,” Mosley said. “We look at it like the regular season is 13 national championship games for every opponent we play, so we know that we’re going to have to play our best every week.”

For the most part, the Crimson Tide have found a way to do that during their historic run.

Still, they’ve needed a little help along the way and have managed to make clutch plays at key times.

They rebounded from a November home loss to Texas A&M last season to reach the BCS National Championship Game after previously unbeaten Oregon and Kansas State both lost the next week. A week earlier, they pulled out a win over LSU on the road thanks to a last-minute touchdown drive.

Had Ohio State not been on NCAA probation last season and ineligible for postseason play, Alabama probably would have been left out of the BCS National Championship Game.

In 2011, the Crimson Tide got a rematch with LSU in the BCS National Championship Game despite not even winning the Western Division title and losing at home to LSU during the regular season.

So the ball has bounced Alabama’s way each of the past two seasons. But once on the big stage, the Crimson Tide have proved emphatically that they were the best team in college football.

Getting there may again be the tricky part in 2013. There’s the showdown with Texas A&M in College Station the third week of the season, and there are some key holes to fill on both defense and offense.

Three starters on the offensive line are gone, including All-Americans Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack. The Crimson Tide will also be looking for reinforcements in the defensive secondary. There’s very little depth at cornerback.

“We still have a lot of guys coming back who’ve been in those big games and have the right experience,” McCarron said. “But at the same time, we’re going to need some of these freshmen coming in and some of the sophomores and redshirt freshmen to step up and make some plays for us.

“We’re going to find out who’s ready to do that. You always need new guys to emerge, every year. We’ve got to have guys who can do it on a consistent basis and know that they’re going to be there week in and week out. Nothing’s going to be given to us, and nothing’s going to be easy. We know that.”

If Alabama can get past Texas A&M on Sept. 14, the schedule isn’t too daunting from there. In fact, the Crimson Tide have to leave the state to play only twice more after that -- at Kentucky on Oct. 12 and at Mississippi State on Nov. 16. What’s more, they avoid Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in the East next season.

Of course, good luck in getting anybody inside the Alabama locker room to admit that they’ve even thought about looking that far down the road.

But as the chase ensues in 2013 -- on both fronts -- the specter of a potential three-peat will loom large across the entire college football landscape.

“There’s a lot of work to do before anybody starts thinking about that,” Mosley said. “We’re still trying to get a feel for some of the younger guys. We working on putting the standard in their heads and making sure they know what Alabama football is all about.”

Judging by how crowded the trophy case at the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility is getting, they tend to learn quickly at the Capstone.