HOOVER, Ala. — Alabama receiver Amari Cooper has been through the offseasons filled with talk of repeat national championships, and now he’s endured one that began with sour memories not celebratory confetti showers.
Cooper has no doubt which is more motivating.
“The losses,” he said Thursday. “It humbles you and it makes you hungry and aware of how losing feels, and you don’t want to feel that way again.”
The Crimson Tide was once again declared the Southeastern Conference favorite in media voting at the league’s media days, and is regarded as one of the likely national contenders.
That’s nothing new.
Nevertheless, the mood has been as different as the memories. Alabama was roughed up by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and that came after Auburn’s 109-yard return of a missed field goal on the Iron Bowl’s final play, which has seemed to Landon Collins to be on an endless loop ever since.
“It shows on TV every day,” the Tide safety said. “It beats in our heart every day. I get sick. I have to turn it off.”
The unhappy ending to last season left coach Nick Saban’s concerns less about complacency and more about getting back to doing what led to three national titles in four years. As he put it, players and coaches must “check your ego at the door.”
Alabama is still seeking a replacement to quarterback AJ McCarron, a race that has come down to Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jake Coker. Plus the latest crop to leave for the NFL must be replaced.
“We’re basically an unproven team in some areas,” Saban said. “There’s a lot of question marks because of the players that we lost and the players that we have coming in.”
It hasn’t changed the way Alabama is regarded: As the team to beat in the SEC.
League media picked Alabama to win the West over defending league champion Auburn, and the overall title, in balloting released Thursday. South Carolina was picked to top Georgia in the East.
Saban noted that SEC reporters have only been right five times in the last 22 years.
“You’ve been wrong the last five years in a row,” he said. “Every year that we won the championship you picked somebody else. To be kind, it doesn’t mean anything. I’m rooting for you now. You’re all my good buddies.”
Despite that light note, Saban spent much of his time at the podium talking about disciplinary issues both on his team and, in general, college football and today’s youth.
The Tide had a pair of players arrested in the two weeks leading up to media days, running back Kenyan Drake and defensive lineman Jarran Reed.
Saban said both players are “suspended from activity” with the team.
“When they prove that I think or we think that they’re ready to come back and show a little bit more responsibility and discipline for how they handle themselves, their decision-making, how they represent the university, their family and themselves, then we’ll allow them to come back on the team,” he said. “We’re not making that judgment right now.”