It's been a down season for the Alabama football team, at least by the Crimson Tide's incredibly lofty standards.
While most teams might celebrate an 8-2 start to the year and a No. 8 national ranking, it's panic time in Tuscaloosa, as the Crimson Tide won't play in the SEC championship game and almost certainly will get left out of the College Football Playoff for just the second time ever.
It's not just fans that are upset, either. The team's two losses have led to some grumbling from former Alabama players.
According to Michael Casagrande of AL.com, Alabama head coach Nick Saban said on his radio show Thursday that he's had some conversations with former players and that their criticism "breaks my heart."
“When former players come back to me, it hurts my heart," Saban said. "And I told the players this, so I’m not speaking out of school, if anybody who’s ever played here in this culture and on this team would think anybody on this team is not playing to that culture and to that standard, that really breaks my heart, because I’m responsible for that and I want all the players to feel the responsibility that goes with that in terms of who we are at Alabama, how we play, what we do and how we do things. So, we’re working on it.”
It's true that Alabama, ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, has been uncharacteristically sloppy this season. The Tide rank No. 123 nationally and second-to-last in the SEC in penalties per game. They've turned the ball over more than they've taken it away from opponents for the first time since 2014.
Saban specifically mentioned former running back Bo Scarborough as someone who expressed concern about this team's culture.
“He put his finger on the table and said ‘When we played here, we were making sure the other team, when the game is over, would say we never want to play them again,'" Saban said. “... That’s the kind of culture we want to try to recreate."
Alabama shouldn't have a difficult time imposing its will this week, as the Crimson Tide host FCS opponent Austin Peay on Saturday. They will close the regular season with the annual Iron Bowl matchup against rival Auburn.
While Alabama is no longer playing for a national title this season, rediscovering the discipline and toughness of a typical Saban-coached team could be important going into next year, when the Crimson Tide will almost certainly have to replace 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and defensive player of the year candidate Will Anderson Jr.
As typically happens on the rare occasions when Alabama doesn't win the SEC, there has been some chatter that Saban's dynastic run is on the decline. Next season will loom large in determining the validity of that take.