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November 9, 2010

Where does the Crimson Tide go from here?

TUSCALOOSA _ With respect to the people who put together the latest Lebron James ad campaign for Nike, Monday had the same kind of feel at the Mal Moore Athletic Complex.

Only instead of "What should I do," the question surrounding the University of Alabama football team was "Where do you go from here?"

"I guess there are some scenarios and some possibilities that we could do something, but I think this is all about how you want to finish the season," Coach Nick Saban summarized.

"How you respond to adversity is the key."

He, of course, has been through this before. After winning the 2003 national championship at LSU, the Tigers came back and went 9-3 (6-2 SEC) with the two key regular-season losses on the road at No. 15 Auburn and No. 3 Georgia.

It then finished up with a loss to Iowa in the Capital One Bowl, which could be this year's destination as well depending on how the final games go.

"There was just so much hype and it seems like we aren't living up to expectations," junior defensive end Marcell Dareus said. "We're just going out and doing the best we can. We can't do what everyone thinks we should do. We had mistakes. People say it's maturity and how young are players are, it's not so much that. We have to go out and capitalize, do the best that we can and everything else will fall into place.

"We can be great. This team can be great just like any team that came through Alabama. It's just the little things."

However, those "little things" added up last Saturday in Baton Rouge, where LSU's big plays produced a 24-21 victory. Not only were the Crimson Tide's chances of repeating as national champions dashed, but made a return trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game pretty remote.

Thus, the "end of the world" type feelings surrounding the program despite having played in back-to-back Independence Bowls less than five years ago (2006-07).

"It's just lack of consistent execution," senior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "We might have 10 guys doing a play perfect and then one guy not doing it right, whether it's at the quarterback position, one of the wideouts, not hitting the right hole with the running backs or the O-line missing a block.

"All is not lost with this team, we have to regulate our confidence and be able to go out and execute consistently. I think that's the difference between this year's team and last year's team."

However, unlike the 2009 undefeated campaign Alabama no longer controls its own destiny, for anything. To even have a shot at the SEC Championship Game not only must Auburn lose at home to Georgia on Saturday, the Crimson Tide must win its final two conference games plus get some more help to emerge from either a three- and four-team tie atop the SEC West.

As for the bowl possibilities, they're too numerous to mention.

Thus, as far as Alabama is concerned the ability to get over the "reality check," as Saban put it, and get the focus back on the field and preparing for Saturday's game against No. 17 Mississippi State will likely determine its immediate success.

That wasn't just the coaches' message during Monday's press conference, with "I think the real glory of it is, sometimes when you get knocked down, it's your ability to get back up, to overcome adversity, and that's a true test of character," but to the players as well.

"The stuff that he tells you all is exactly what he tells us, because it is what it is," junior center William Vlachos said. "I think a lot of people around here have been very result-oriented."

When asked for an example of how that might affect the team on the field, Vlachos suggested: "Maybe if you're down in a game you kind of freak out because you haven't been there before."

Regardless, Alabama got back to work Monday after a long Sunday that had everyone feeling everything from frustration and disappointment to basic futility.

So where does Alabama go from here?

"I kind of came to the conclusion that if I was sitting around moping all day then I'd be mad at myself for letting it get me down," McElroy said about Sunday. "If I was sitting around happy all day I'd be mad at myself for trying to blow it off.

"It's still one of those situations we still don't have a lot of experience doing it. Hopefully we can bound back this week and put it in the read-view mirror."


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