By John Zenor/The Associated Press
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Here’s a prediction: Nick Saban won’t like questions about predictions.
The Alabama coach has no interest in dissecting the national championship race or discussing which young Crimson Tide players are poised to blossom into stars. So don’t ask.
In fact, nobody did at the Tide’s media day on Sunday. Saban sacked that line of questioning with an aggressive blitz.
“All these predictions that you all make, they hijack the game,” Saban said before fielding reporters’ questions. “All anybody worries about in college football is the BCS, who’s going to be in the final game. We have a lot of great games, for our fans, for our players, great competitive venues. Michigan’s going to be a great game. Arkansas game, Tennessee game, LSU, Auburn. I could go through every game on our schedule and say how exciting a game this is going to be. And why do we play the games? To answer the questions.”
They’re inevitable nevertheless in the weeks leading up to that Sept. 1 opener with Michigan in Arlington, Texas. The coaches ranked Alabama No. 2 behind LSU — a reversal from how last season ended — in their preseason poll.
Saban’s analogy is whether a team wants to be like an ever-fluctuating thermometer or a thermostat, “which creates the same temperature all the time, with consistency that you can count on.”
Tide players have insisted they won’t let ambitions for a third national title in four years sidetrack their focus from the process of trying to make it that far.
“I don’t find myself paying too much attention to that,” said left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, the offensive line’s only new starter. “I’m not even sure where we’re ranked.”
The hundreds of fans showing up at Bryant-Denny Stadium for Saban’s lone open practice each year — and hundreds more waiting outside for the subsequent team autograph session — make it clear there’s no hiding from the high expectations. Those faithful got to take a peek at some of those newcomers they’ve heard so much about, take their measure and maybe make a few predictions of their own regarding future stars.
The day also marks the only time that new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart are allowed to talk to reporters, at least until the bowl trip.
Saban hired Nussmeier in January after Jim McElwain left for the head coaching job at Colorado State.
The former University of Washington offensive coordinator has found plenty to like on the roster so far. From quarterback AJ McCarron, who he said “has a very, very high ceiling,” to the offensive line that’s “as good an offensive line as I’ve ever been around in college football.”
Smart, entering his sixth season with the Tide, has more holes to fill. He’s got to replace seven starters from a group that led the nation in all the major statistical categories — total, scoring and rush and pass defense.
Smart urges caution in one regard: comparisons to 2011.
“That defense is gone and we’re not holding these guys or making any comparisons to that defense,” he said. “These guys are being compared to the goals we have every game. Our goal is to win the game; that’s what we’re comparing these guys to. If you win the game, we stop the run, we stop the pass — every goal we had last year — so they’re being held to the Alabama defensive standard, not the 2011 defense standard.”
Smart likes the defensive line depth but doesn’t see “a lot of great players per se, a Marcell Dareus.”
“We’ve got a lot of competition going on at every position,” he said. “More competition this year than I can ever remember before because there’s just a lot of equal players.”
That saves him from having to make predictions.