TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There was a time when winning the Southeastern Conference championship would have been the ultimate goal.
But as Alabama center Ryan Kelly puts it, last year's conference title win over Missouri feels more like a reminder of what the team didn't accomplish.
"I mean, I look at the ring every now and then, but it doesn't feel like we even won. It doesn't," Kelly said Thursday. "At the time, it was an awesome feeling. We get the chance to play Ohio State. After we lost to Ohio
State, I just, all that season was for nothing. The season was awesome. It was a great time. It was a lot of fun and there were a lot of great players that I played with. But it just does something to all the progress you've made so far. Just start from Ground 1."
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The league title gave the Tide its third under coach Nick Saban. But the loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl looms way larger.
And if that wasn't motivation enough, the Tide's 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes -- both ranked No. 1 in the country by most services -- have yet to finish the season with a victory after back-to-back Sugar Bowl losses. Just how "hungry" is this group to get back on track in the postseason?
"The hungriest. There's enough guys here that haven't even won a bowl game, you know?" Kelly said. "If you look at that, not even in the national championship scheme but just the way we go all season long, dominate and get to the last game and it's kinda like everybody's kind of fallen apart. That's one of the biggest things we've gotten back to. I can see the change in the coaching staff and in the players, too, the attitudes we bring every day."
Defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson, a member of the 2013 class, is one of the Tide's players who hasn't experienced any bowl success. That, along with other factors, seems to be really fueling Robinson's and his teammates appetites for something bigger.
"We're starving, just starving to go out there and get better every day," Robinson said. "We're not worrying about the season right now because it's about getting better right now. So we're starving to get better as a team and as individuals for the team."
The talk is fine, but it doesn't produce any results. With that in mind, the jist of Saban's message from his opening day news conference was don't let last year's mistakes creep into this season.
There are the usual Saban talking points that help the Tide sustain a high level of play in the fourth quarter like improving the team's "toughness, effort, relentless competitive spirit" and "how we compete in games." Then there are the mistakes that sometimes show up in the box score, and if not corrected, can eventually get a team beat.
"The last couple of years we have not done very well in turnovers," Saban said. "We had a minus-2 turnover ratio last year for a team that won 12 games (which is) almost unheard of. And we gave up too many big plays. That's something we need to work on. We need to do a better job getting off the field on third down, and we need to play with a lot more discipline on special teams so that we can take advantage of some of the great skill guys that we have."
Kelly is one of the few remaining members on the current team who got to experience the championship run. After redshirting in 2011, Kelly saw time in 10 games during the 2012 season. He would have played in the 2012 national championship game had Barrett Jones' foot injury not healed properly. The goal of winning a national championship remains the same in Kelly's eyes.
"You either live up to it or you just crumble underneath it," Kelly said of the championship or bust expectations. "I think one of the biggest things we've been able to do here is play to a standard. We set the bar for ourselves, so it's not so much the fans putting pressure on us it's putting pressure on ourselves. From 2009 to 2012 we had three out of four national championships and the last two years we haven't finished. That being said, that bar's been set before any of us even got here, before I got here. So that's definitely reiterated before you come here, while you're getting recruited, so every guy that's on the roster is here because he wants to be.
"I think that's one of the biggest things - this is a special place. I know a lot of people and everybody on this team understands that it's a lot bigger than just one person. It's something special."
-- Contact Anniston Star Sports Writer Marq Burnett at mburnett @Marq_Burnett.