Nick Saban would never admit it, but there's an argument to be made that, because of its struggles at the end of 2013, his team is better off heading into next season than it was before last.
After beating Notre Dame by 28 points—a deceptively small margin—in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game, Alabama entered the following season having won two consecutive and three of four national titles and returning many of its most important pieces.
Nothing but a three-peat would have done.
Seriously. Go reread the articles. Perfection was almost expected, demanded from the populace. Even we here at B/R were not immune:
The Crimson Tide, of course, ultimately fell short of that goal, losing their last two games of the season against Auburn in the Iron Bowl and Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. For the first time since 2008—his second season in Tuscaloosa—Saban has lost consecutive games.
Some might argue this is a good thing. That because his team was humbled down the stretch last season, Saban might have a new type of advantage in 2014. That his job might be easier.
But it won't be.
Parts of it might be, sure.
Saban can use the fuel of last year's disappointing finish to motivate his team this offseason, something all the great coaches can do. Saban himself did it after losing the final two games of 2008, leading his team to a national championship the following season.
But the great coaches can also motivate a winning team with similar ease. Saban, for example, having coached Alabama to the title in 2012 after winning it in 2011. He's succeeded under both circumstances, so it seems specious at best to claim he's better at one than the other. He's simply a good coach—period.
And while expectations are lower this season than last, it's not like they're actually low. Alabama could have gone winless in the SEC last season and still had fans expecting a national title. Auburn almost did it, after all. And anything Auburn can do, we can do better.
It's not just folks in Tuscaloosa expecting a lot, either. According to odds posted at Covers.com, 'Bama is one of the favorites to win it all next season, checking in at 6-to-1—tied with Oregon and behind only Florida State. Everyone thinks this team will be a good one.
Writes B/R's Barrett Sallee:
Stability isn't good enough for Alabama. Not after Saban led the Crimson Tide to three national titles in four seasons from 2009 to 2012. If Alabama doesn't win the division, win the conference and secure a spot in the College Football Playoff, that signifies a step back for the program.
Not a major step back, but a step back nonetheless.
The state of affairs before Saban is no different than usual, only this year, unlike last, he must deal with attrition and turnover at some of his most important offensive positions.
Specifically, Lane Kiffin, a media lightning rod if there ever was one, takes over for Doug Nussmeier at offensive coordinator and a five-way battle has been waged to replace AJ McCarron at quarterback.
Florida State transfer Jacob Coker is the tentative favorite to win, and if he does, the Tide's starting QB and offensive coordinator will both have joined the program within the past 65 days. Saban has won with continuity these past few seasons, but now there is turbulence at two vital spots.
How is that supposed to make things easier?
The captain of his defense, linebacker C.J. Mosley, is also gone, along with NFL prospects such as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri, Adrian Hubbard, Ed Stinson, Jeoffrey Pagan and Deion Belue. That is a whole lot of talent for one team to lose, no matter how well it recruits.
These personnel changes will continue to mount pressure on Saban, a down-to-business kind of coach who would probably, to be completely honest, prefer a job with a fraction of the media requirements. Already he is being badgered with questions about the starting quarterback position, even though he said doesn't have an answer.
Per Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com:
We're not going to be in any hurry to decide who the quarterback is. We're going to give everybody a lot of opportunity to compete. You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback, and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 'We're going to wait and see.'
The losses at the end of last season will not make Saban's job any harder in 2014. They just won't make it easier, either.
No matter what happened the previous season, every head coaching job in college football is difficult. And given the precedent Saban has set since arriving in Tuscaloosa, his job will always fall toward the far-right part of that bell curve.
If you're an Alabama fan, take solace in the fact that Saban, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and a whole mess of young talent return to the field next season. That is the reason you should be eager for 2014, expecting to contend for an SEC title, impulsively scouting ticket prices in New Orleans and Pasadena on the evening of Jan. 1, 2015.
The end of last year will have nothing to do with it.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT