For the last several years, Alabama football coach Nick Saban has been outspoken about the Southeastern Conference shifting from eight league games to nine to provide more good matchups for players and fans.
Saban is getting his desire and then some during the weeks ahead, as the SEC will begin its 10-game season consisting solely of league opposition this Saturday, but could it lead to something permanent? This year's season was delayed and reshaped in late July due to coronavirus concerns.
"I certainly think that playing 10 conference games makes it very challenging for the players, and it makes it very challenging for our team," Saban said Monday in a Zoom news conference. "I've always been an advocate of playing more games so that every player gets to play every team in the East (during their time in Tuscaloosa), and this is certainly going to create that opportunity to a large degree for a lot of our players.
"I can't really answer how it will impact the future. I think a lot of it will be determined by how this season goes."
Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Georgia's Kirby Smart also have expressed their wishes for nine conference games, while South Carolina's Will Muschamp has been the most vocal against the move. Until this season's unique format, Muschamp's Gamecocks annually have been facing state-rival Clemson, which won national championships in 2016 and 2018 and has made five consecutive appearances in the College Football Playoff.
The Crimson Tide will open at Missouri (7 p.m. on ESPN), a program they whipped 42-10 at Columbia in 2012, 42-13 at Atlanta's SEC title game in 2014, and 39-10 at Tuscaloosa in 2018.
Junior defensive back Ronald Williams is the only player that Saban said for sure would miss Saturday's contest. The transfer from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College fractured his arm last week.
Saban was asked Monday whether there would be any recognition of social injustice issues before Saturday's kickoff.
"We really haven't discussed anything to this point," he said. "We've always tried to represent the University of Alabama together as a unit, so any talk of anything we might do would be something we would want to do as a team, but there hasn't been any discussions of those things to this point. We do have an 'SEC Togetherness' shirt that all the players are going to receive, and they can wear those pregame if they choose to."
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