Almost everybody in the state was unhappy with how the college football season ended last year, especially Alabama and Auburn.

That’s why fans of both teams should be very happy with what came out of SEC Media Days, which ended Thursday.

If there was one trait that the reps from the Tide and Tigers seemed to emanate at the event, it was hunger. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn even said as much, that his team is hungry. That’s a good sign, because the Tide and Tigers just as easily could have shown up at the event looking defeated, having been dispirited by the difficult way the season ended for each program.

So, will each team get to eat this season?

That remains to be seen, of course; we’re still a month-and-a-half away from the start of the college football season. But things are looking good right now.

For the Tide, the crushing disappointment of the last-second loss to Clemson in the national title game obviously hasn’t worn off yet. Coach Nick Saban even said he hopes his team “won’t waste a failure.”

That quote alone is enough to show that the hyper-driven Saban intends to push his team as hard as ever.

It would be easy for Alabama to slack off a bit; after all, the program has brought home five national titles since Saban arrived in 2007. Most teams would be thrilled with a single title in a span of 10 years, but Saban refuses to let his team get complacent. It's just not in his DNA. His “Process” demands the absolute best from everyone in the program, and the results bear that out.

The standard that the coach has set for his team is clear: nothing less than a national title will suffice. Defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick echoed Saban’s comment on falling to Clemson, saying that the defeat “does make it seem like you did it all for nothing.”

Whenever you hear Alabama players echoing what Saban says, you know they’re locked in.

For the Tigers, the hunger is to get to the Tide's current level.

Last year’s 8-5 record especially was disappointing in that Auburn lost three of its final four games, including defeats to rivals Georgia and Alabama, and an ugly defeat to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Malzahn knows that he’s on the hot seat. He is 0-6 against the Bulldogs and Tide over the past three years, and the program has taken a noticeable step back since his first year at the helm, when Auburn went 12-2 with a three-point loss to Florida State in the 2013 national title game.

Knowing that, you’d have to expect the coach to feel a sense of urgency, a need to win and win big this season. Luckily for Auburn fans, that came across at SEC Media Days.

Heck, Malzahn even said that he sees hunger in his group for the first time since 2013. With a team full of experienced players who are tired of not winning enough and transfers who want to make their second chances count, it makes sense. Not every team with those ingredients has that kind of drive, but Malzahn believes his 2017 group does.

Offensive lineman Braden Smith, a senior who has one last shot to help lead the Tigers to a championship, said that the transfers, including former JSU offensive lineman Casey Dunn (a two-time FCS All-American with the Gamecocks), former Florida State offensive lineman Wilson Bell and former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham, have come in with the attitude of doing their part as members of the team and learning all they can about the offense and the team’s culture.

If Malzahn is right and the team blends together as well as it has the potential to, then the Nov. 25 Iron Bowl in Jordan-Hare Stadium could be as important as the 2013 version.

It’s not all wine and roses, however. It never really is for football coaches, noted perfectionists. For Auburn, the hope is Stidham is an ideal fit for Malzahn’s offense. He appears to have the tools to be. However, much of the same was thought of Jeremy Johnson, and we know how that turned out.

In addition, the defense has to replace a number of key playmakers, most notably linemen Carl Lawson and Montravious Adams and defensive back Rudy Ford, who now are bathing in NFL riches.

For the Tide (a team that always reloads, never rebuilds), the latest batch of high draft picks, including linebacker Reuben Foster, tight end O.J. Howard, defensive end Jonathan Allen and cornerback Marlon Humphrey, to name a few, must be replaced. Of course, with the way Saban recruits, talent won’t be a problem. But still, the losses, especially on defense, were heavy, and that might make the always-formidable Tide D just a bit more vulnerable this year.

But the way things looked this week in Hoover, those concerns for both teams very well may end up being totally unfounded.

 

J.J. Hicks is a sports writer for The Gadsden Times. Follow him on Twitter @GT_JJHicks.