There are no games. For Alabama fans awaiting practice to start for the second-ranked Tide’s BCS Championship clash with No. 1 Notre Dame, there’s not even practice. It’s final-exams week at the Capstone.
There’s just idle time to assess the regular season that was, and this past week’s awards announcements make an interesting starting point for conversation about this Alabama team.
Google “college football awards 2012” and look down the list on ESPN.com. From the Heisman Memorial Trophy, for which Alabama had a 2011 finalist, down to the Disney Spirit Award, which Alabama won in 2011, there are 24 awards.
Alabama won just two, the Rimington and Campbell trophies, and center Barrett Jones won both.
Even with a team that produced six Associated Press All-Americans — Jones, guard Chance Warmack, linebacker C.J. Mosley and cornerback Dee Milliner on the first team, offensive tackle D.J. Fluker on the second team and quarterback AJ McCarron on the third team — Alabama got just two of the major national awards.
Did we mention that Alabama was less than a month away from playing for its third BCS title in four years?
Did we mention that Alabama was the No. 1 team in the country from Game 2 through Game 10 and was getting nearly every first-place vote in the three major polls until losing to Texas A&M and Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel?
So respected was Alabama that the Tide only fell to No. 4 in the BCS standings after that 29-24 loss then quickly shot back up to No. 2, after Kansas State and Oregon suffered upsets the following week.
So much for awards as coronation of the nation’s best teams.
Well, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o won seven of the Fighting Irish’s 10 awards, but one gets the point. Alabama was seen as the nation’s best team for most of the season and stands as a 9.5-point favorite to beat Notre Dame in the BCS final, but only two of the major national awards?
The Tide won the SEC, the conference that has produced the past six national champions and stands poised to make it seven, but two awards?
Indeed, just two awards, and it says a lot worth liking about this Alabama team. As billed, it truly missed the star power of other Nick Saban-coached Alabama teams, yet look where the Tide stands.
This Alabama team proved it’s possible to stay on top after losing several stars on defense and a Heisman-finalist running back in Trent Richardson from a national-championship team. So much for the parity era.
This Alabama team proved it’s possible to win a national championship and come back hungry and focused enough to play for another the next season. So much for the lessons of 2010, when the Tide lost three regular-season games after going undefeated in 2009.
Perhaps this season more than any other, the Nick Saban recruiting and focus machine took hold. The players were good enough, even without proven stars, and the whole was better than the sum of its parts.
Alabama had disappointing teams on its schedule but dominated Michigan, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Auburn like a top team should. Alabama also dominated better-than-expected teams like Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
When the Tide got challenged, it found a game-winning drive at LSU and came from behind three times against Georgia in the SEC Championship. Even in the one loss, Alabama rallied from a 20-0 hole and stood two yards from the winning touchdown.
Young players like freshman running back T.J. Yeldon and freshman wide receiver Amari Cooper will become proven stars, if not already. Their awards days are coming, but there’s something to be said for the 2012 Alabama team.
It took a program that won 12 national titles and stood one victory shy of a 13th before winning its first Heisman Trophy back to the future.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.