SEC Media Days

Alabama fans pack the lobby at the Wynfrey hotel in Hoover, Alabama during Wednesday's SEC Media Days event.

HOOVER, Ala. — False alarm.

Nothing to see here folks. Move along.

Same ol' St. Nick. Same Nick Saban steadfastly abiding by The Process.

There was a certain bit of anticipation for Saban's annual stop-what-you're-doing appearance at SEC Media Days.

This time it might be different.

The king of the SEC might be a tad humbled.

It's been a rarity, but he'd been here before in the aftermath of NOT winning a national championship.

But never quite like this. Never after being pummeled in the Big Game like Alabama was last year when Clemson had its way 44-16 in the national championship.

It looked familiar to the rest of the SEC only for the novelty of the role-reversal — Clemson inflicted on Saban and the Tide the kind of havoc the rest of the SEC is so used to Bama unleashing on them.

Maybe there's a blueprint there.

And that wasn't the half of it.

Some recalled that Saban seemed shockingly detached during the second half of that beat-down, as if it was inevitable and that the man who always has a Plan B and backup quarterback to bail him out knew he had no answers.

There was no shortage of analysis, particularly that look of resignation on Saban's face during the Clemson debacle, the defeated body language.

Beginning of the end, perhaps?

In the wake of last year, he'll have two new coordinators this season, which brings the body count to 22 assistant coaches changes over the last four years.

Panic setting in?

If that bundle of focus and concentration ever suffers career burn-out, went the thinking, it could be an epic meltdown — the Wicked Witch of the West sinking into the floor. Translation: Maybe Saban's stranglehold on college football is slipping. Maybe with such a massive loss, some of the intimidation factor would be lost. Collateral effect: Maybe there's even hope for the rest of the SEC, a light at the end of The (Fading?) Process.

Upon further review: Guess again.

Saban is still the alpha dog in this conference, still the standard everybody else is chasing.

And ­— forget about it — he's not slowing down at 67.

Maybe he's a little more human. Otherwise, if Wednesday was any indication, it appears the Clemson game was just one bad day at the office.

Nothing much had changed for SEC Saban Day Wednesday as the assorted media here prepared to rubber-stamp the preseason poll again with the Tide at the top of the SEC. The Crimson Tide fan gang ­— some outfitted like they were auditioning for "Let's Make a Deal" — was packing the Wynfrey hotel lobby as rambunctious as ever, eyes trained on the famous escalator, straining just to get a glimpse of their man and do some stupid Bama trick for him to prove they're the biggest Roll-Tider extant.

Maybe they had wondered, too.

But it doesn't look like one loss has changed him much.

He had a hip replacement in the off-season — and missed exactly a day and a half away from the office.

Staff turnover is nothing new for him — the parlor game is figuring out which of them were run off and which fled in terror.

And remember. For all the hand-wringing, he did go 14-1 overall last season — a milestone for most programs — and yet Wednesday was talking about how the Tide needed to "re-establish the standard that we'd like to play to, standard of discipline ... players that are going to be responsible and accountable to do their job at a high level on a consistent basis and also put the team first.

"If you're a great competitor and you are in a game like we were for the national championship and you didn't perform very well .... not to take anything away from them (Clemson), but if you're a competitor, you're going to respond in a positive way and learn from the things that you didn't do, whether those things were in preparation, game-day decisions, the habits that you created leading up to the game ... We obviously didn't do that. That's my responsibility."

Saban thought the Tide probably peaked with the early November 29-0 victory over LSU, and might have gotten complacent afterwards.

Never quite had the same edge afterwards. Those damnable distractions were attacking from all sides — for players and coaches.

"But I think that our players learned a lot from that experience," he said. "I think that we didn't play with the discipline at the end of the season that we'd like to have as a team. I don't think that our preparation ... was what it needed to be.

"But it seems like we had a lot of distractions at the end of the year. So hopefully we learned from those scenarios, and it will help us do the things that we need to do to be able to play to our full potential throughout this season."

It sounded like he meant it.

And with no lack of confidence.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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