published Sunday, July 18th, 2010

New year, whole new ballgame

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    Alabama head coach Nick Saban watches White team's A.J. McCarron, right, during the fourth quarter of Alabama's annual A-Day spring college football game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, April 17, 2010. (AP Photo/The Tuscaloosa News, Dusty Compton )

Alabama coach Nick Saban has expressed several times this year that armies defend forts but college football teams don’t defend national championships.

Saban believes that what happened last season — the Crimson Tide capping their first 14-0 record with a 37-21 win over Texas in the BCS title game — stays in last season. Yet the topic of repeating, or even defending, is expected to be extremely popular Wednesday when Saban and the Tide open the Southeastern Conference media days event in Hoover, Ala.

Saban coached LSU to a 9-3 record in 2004 after guiding the Tigers to the ’03 BCS crown.

“That was the first time we had ever had that experience when we were at LSU,” Saban said, “and we probably didn’t realize some of the factors that are important in being able to come back and get your team ready to play at their full potential.”

Saban’s Tigers were shaky from the start in ’04, surviving Oregon State 22-21 in an overtime opener in which Beavers kicker Alexis Serna missed three extra points. LSU lost to Auburn 10-9 in its first SEC road game and was waxed by Georgia 45-16 in its second league trip, plunging the Tigers to 24th in the polls.

LSU won its final six regular-season games and was on the verge of climbing back into the top 10 at the Capital One Bowl but lost to Iowa 30-25 on a 56-yard touchdown pass as time expired.

One monstrous advantage the 2010 Tide have over the ’04 Tigers is at quarterback. LSU never had stability that season with Marcus Randall and JaMarcus Russell, while Alabama returning starter Greg McElroy was superior to Florida’s Tim Tebow in last year’s SEC title game and posted the second-lowest interception rate in league history (1 per 81.25 attempts).

“I think, in one way, once you accomplish something it takes away some of the self-imposed limitations,” Saban said. “(Golfer) Phil Mickelson is a good example — 14 years and no majors, wins one and then wins a few more. On the other hand, people sort of psychologically think it’s harder to repeat anything, but I think the hard part of it is not the repeating but staying focused on the process of playing your best football.

“That’s what we’ve tried to emphasize with our players, and that’s what we’re trying to do this time around. Hopefully, we’ll get this team to play to the best of their capabilities.”



COULD YOU REPEAT THAT, PLEASE?

The five most common questions expected Wednesday through Friday at SEC football media days:

1. Can Alabama repeat its national championship?

The Crimson Tide have superb talent offensively and a superb head coach, but there are a slew of new starters defensively and questions in the kicking game. Several publications already have tabbed the Tide as the preseason No. 1, which coach Nick Saban can’t begin to fathom.

“If this team is No.1, it’s because of what they did last year,” he said, “because they haven’t done anything.”

2. What will Florida look like after Tim Tebow?

Urban Meyer may not have a team that can go 13-1 for a third straight season, but he might. So much will depend on quarterback John Brantley, who completed 36 of 48 passes for 410 yards and seven touchdowns last season and went 15-of-19 for 201 yards and two scores in this year’s spring game.

Another big question facing the Gators is who gets the ball on third-and-2, because for the past four years there has been no doubt.

3. Is this the year South Carolina finally breaks through?

East Division foes Florida, Georgia and Tennessee are breaking in new quarterbacks, but when we last left the Gamecocks, Stephen Garcia was perfectly putrid in the Papajohns.com Bowl. The Georgia-South Carolina game at high noon Sept. 11 is among the top five most important league games this season, because the winner becomes the instant favorite to challenge the Gators.

The Gamecocks also get a bye week before an Oct. 9 home game with Alabama, which will be coming off a night game against Florida at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

4. Which team will be Alabama’s chief challenger in the West?

Arkansas, Auburn and LSU each hopes to be, but Bobby Petrino’s Razorbacks and Gene Chizik’s Tigers must be vastly improved defensively to hang with the Crimson Tide over the course of a season. LSU still is the closest to Alabama from a talent standpoint, but the Tigers must produce an offense that can match their promising personnel.

In addition, LSU coach Les Miles must be much better this year in clock management.

5. Who is Robbie Caldwell?

That would be the new interim head coach at Vanderbilt, who was thrust into a media days assignment after Bobby Johnson abruptly retired last Wednesday. Caldwell has some Southern charm and could fit right in, but what does he plan to do about an offense that scored just five touchdowns in eight league games last season?

Johnson said after spring practice that the Commodores will have a hurry-up tempo and a milk-the-clock tempo, but will either stack up against SEC defenses?

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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