The "Alabama factor."
It's a phrase Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has uttered frequently in the months that have followed the 44-16 loss to Clemson in the championship game of the 2018 college football season. It's also a mantra Saban likely will repeat this week at the Southeastern Conference's annual media showcase in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover.
The January drubbing by Dabo Swinney's Tigers marked the most lopsided loss of Saban's first 12 seasons in Tuscaloosa, and it transpired against an Alabama juggernaut that had rolled to a 14-0 record with 13 double-digit triumphs.
"It's not a slogan," Saban said this spring. "It's really what this program is built on."
The "Alabama factor," Saban said, involves tremendous discipline and having responsible and accountable players who always place the team first. Humility is a requirement regardless of how much success a player has enjoyed in the past, and the focus of each player should always be on the process and not the outcome.
"I'm hearing it a lot now," Crimson Tide junior safety Xavier McKinney said in the spring. "I didn't hear it as much last year, but I hear it a lot now."
Saban's appearance typically has been the main event at SEC Media Days over the past decade, and it shouldn't be any different this week. What is different is that he's arriving off a four-touchdown loss.
Here are some other storylines to follow at this week's extravaganza:
Alabama and Georgia were picked last summer to win their respective divisions with ease and did just that, with the Tide taking the West by three games over Texas A&M and LSU and with the Bulldogs topping the East by two games over Kentucky and Florida.
If history repeats this week from a balloting perspective, Alabama will be the West favorite for the seventh straight year, while Georgia will be the East selection for a third straight occasion. The most recent programs other than the Tide and Bulldogs projected to win their divisions were LSU (2012) and Tennessee (2016).
A whopping nine quarterbacks will be interviewed this week in Hoover, a list headed by Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia's Jake Fromm. Tagovailoa finished runner-up for the Heisman Trophy last season, while Fromm has finished among the nation's top 10 in passing efficiency in each of his first two seasons in Athens.
Missouri's Kelly Bryant, a graduate transfer who guided Clemson to the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff in 2017, will attend SEC Media Days before ever taking a snap in his new league. The quarterback list includes three more players — LSU's Joe Burrow, Florida's Feleipe Franks and Texas A&M's Kellen Mond — who could be heading preseason top-10 teams, so can others such as Tennessee's Jarrett Guarantano grab a share of the limelight as well?
Guarantano set a school record by throwing 166 passes last season without an interception and has a completion clip of 62.2% that ranks second in program history behind Peyton Manning (62.5%), but the 6-foot-4, 215-pound redshirt junior has yet to play in a bowl game.
"Jarrett is really smart," second-year Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said this spring. "He has good athletic ability. He has been working as all players do with consistency.
"I think he has handled the new coordinator (Jim Chaney) well, and it hasn't been a problem. He has done it before."
Two SEC programs that backtracked last season, Auburn and South Carolina, must try to rebound against brutal schedules.
Will Muschamp's Gamecocks went from 9-4 in 2017 to 7-6 last season, which ended with a putrid 28-0 loss to Virginia in the Belk Bowl. South Carolina is the only team in college football this season that has to face the towering trio of Alabama, Clemson and Georgia.
Auburn, meanwhile, went from winning the West in 2017 to a 3-5 league finish last season. Gus Malzahn's Tigers did cap their year with a 63-14 dismantling of Purdue in the Music City Bowl, but they face six teams — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Oregon and Texas A&M — that could be among the top 10 at the start of the season.
Since the end of last season, Malzahn and his players watched Bruce Pearl's Tigers knock off Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in consecutive NCAA tournament games to cement Auburn's first-ever trip to the Final Four in men's basketball.
"We've got a very challenging schedule, maybe the most challenging in the country," said Malzahn, who will navigate this season with either a redshirt freshman (Joey Gatewood) or a true freshman (Bo Nix) as his starting quarterback. "Watching Bruce go through the gauntlet he did — they didn't make any excuses. They just took it one game at a time.
"We've used that with our team. The basketball team gave us a great example."
While half the league could begin this year ranked in the Top 25, Kentucky is not expected to be among that group.
The Wildcats finished a 10-3 season with a 27-24 downing of Penn State in the Citrus Bowl that resulted in a No. 12 final ranking, but they are getting little to no love this year after losing running back Benny Snell and outside linebacker Josh Allen to the NFL draft. Kentucky seventh-year coach Mark Stoops noticed the change in attention immediately and likely will bring that up this week.
"Here's the beautiful thing this year that I love," Stoops told reporters this spring. "Everybody is doubting us now because, 'Oh, we lost 16 players.' I said a year ago that nobody was talking about any of those guys.
"Nobody gave us any credit a year ago, so who are the new 16 guys on this team that nobody knows or cares about?"
Since when did SEC Media Days become the NFL draft?
This event is back in Hoover after taking place last summer at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. League commissioner Greg Sankey is expected to move media days again next year to Charlotte, Houston, Nashville, Orlando, San Antonio, Tampa or St. Louis.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.