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Saban Already Focused On 2013 Alabama Season

January 9, 2013
By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - It's becoming a familiar January scene for Nick Saban.

The Alabama coach plastered a smile on his face for a series of posed photos next to the various trophies awarded to college football's national champions and then proceeded to talk about the challenges facing his team.

Maybe Saban let the Gatorade dry from the celebratory drenching before thinking about the 2013 season. Maybe.

"The team next year is 0-0," Saban, who is on a 61-7 run over the past five seasons, said Tuesday morning. "Even though I really appreciate what this team accomplished and am very, very proud of what they accomplished, we need to prepare for the challenges of the new season very quickly with the team we have coming back. "

It didn't take Saban long to refocus after Monday night's 42-14 demolition of Notre Dame that secured a second straight BCS title, the Crimson Tide's third in four seasons and the seventh straight for Southeastern Conference teams.

Shortly after the game, he was already talking about getting back to the office by Wednesday morning.

Alabama players, meanwhile, finally were able to voice the "D-word." Center Barrett Jones said he had a Sports Illustrated cover from a couple of years ago after his last college game.

"It says, 'Dynasty. Can anybody stop Alabama?' I'll never forget looking at that thing and wondering if we really could be a dynasty," said Jones.

The 2013 team will almost certainly be regarded among the preseason favorites to get back to the summit, even though three Tide stars - tailback Eddie Lacy, cornerback Dee Milliner and right tackle D.J. Fluker - could decide to skip their senior seasons and turn pro.

Saban also emphatically tried to end speculation that he might return to the NFL, where he spent two years with the Miami Dolphins before returning to the SEC.

It was a question that really made him bristle during the 30-plus minute news conference.

"How many times do you think I've been asked to put it to rest?" Saban said. "And I've put it to rest, and you continue to ask it."

He said that experience taught him that the college ranks "is where I belong, and I'm really happy and at peace with all that."

As for the players, All-America linebacker C.J. Mosley has already said he'll return. So has quarterback AJ McCarron, who had his second straight star turn in a BCS title game.

"We certainly have to build the team around him," Saban said, adding that a late-game spat with Jones showed the quarterback's competitive fire. "I've talked a lot about it's difficult to play quarterback when you don't have good players around you. ... But I think AJ can be a really good player, maybe the best quarterback in the country next year."

Saban emphasized the difficulty of repeating and said he showed the players a video of NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan saying that the first title isn't the hardest - it's the ones after that.

That's because, Saban said, "you have to have the will to fight against yourself."

Now, the 'Bama coach has four titles, including one during his stop at LSU. Saban doesn't wear the championship rings but uses them for a different purpose.

"I just put them on the coffee table for the recruits to look at," he said, cracking up the room.

Saban has already lined up another highly rated recruiting class and has the next wave of young talents waiting in the wings.