HOOVER, Ala. – Dang, I missed my guess on this one.
I was all set for Nick Saban to give us an X-rated lecture Wednesday morning at SEC Media Days.
X, as in “externals” and “expectations,” things that really get his goat. I really thought he’d recycle an old familiar favorite speech about distractions and predictions and basically, well, excoriate us for even bringing up the subject.
Alabama will be picked to win the SEC West, and then – the mere formality – the SEC Championship. A lot of national publications have the Tide favored to win the national championship, as will a large number of voters in the first AP poll.
That same scenario in previous years, Saban would use the Media Days pulpit to remind his fans, and even his players, that preseason predictions are worth about as much as your Blockbuster Video stock.
He’d remind that “expectations” are different within the program, that different barometers are used to measure success.
He’d bemoan the “externals” that might cause distraction – predictions, quarterback controversies, hubbub over staff changes, player suspensions. Everything but fires and plagues and locusts.
Instead, it went with another X.
His own, his quarterback’s and the lack thereof on the defensive side of the ball.
In reverse order:
Alabama “lost a ton of really, really good players” on defense, as Saban noted, with seven going in the NFL draft. But he is – another X – excited.
“We're going to be very young on that side of the ball, but it's also something that we're excited about as coaches to try to help those guys develop to play the kind of football that will allow them to be individually and collectively successful defensively,” Saban said.
On the other side of the ball, there is quarterback Jalen Hurts. Though he may have blinked a little under the spotlight once postseason rolled around, you probably wouldn’t trade him for another QB in the SEC.
“This is the first time that we've had a returning starter at quarterback since 2013, which creates the opportunity for that guy to develop in the things that he needs to do better, which Jalen has done a good job in the offseason of becoming a better passer, understanding the passing game better,” Saban said.
Maybe of all the astonishing things Alabama has accomplished in this era of dominance, with 17 straight SEC wins and three straight titles, or even dating back to the early Saban days, it’s how that’s been done with first-year and/or heretofore average quarterbacks.
(The closest thing to an explosion by Saban was the "hanging curveball" that tested his patience in the middle of TV interviews, when somebody suggested a quarterback controversy, just because the Tide has a talented signee in Tua Tagovailoa, the spellcheck-busting freshman from Hawaii.)
Now, to Saban’s experience:
First of all, he reminded us that this was his 11th SEC Media Days as the Alabama head coach, “which I'm sure that there's nobody in this room thought that that would ever happen when it started out.”
Guilty as charged.
But it’s the most recent experience – that excruciating last-play loss to Clemson – that may give great hope to Alabama fans.
“Whether you win or lose, we're always trying to self-assess to see what we need to do to get better. I think when you lose … the mindset is much more I'm willing to change. I want to learn. I don't want to waste a failure. What could we have done better? Because everybody's hurt by the fact that they lost, especially the way we lost that particular game,” he said.
“We weren't able to finish the game like we needed to. And I think there's a lot of lessons to learn. And hopefully,” he added, “we won't waste a failure.”
Mark McCarter, a four-time Alabama Sports Writer of the Year and a reporter and columnist for 35-plus years, is a special contributor for WHNT.com at the 2017 SEC Media Days. Follow his columns and live blogs this week on WHNT.com.