2017 SEC Media Days: Dominant Alabama Crimson Tide aims to run roughshod again

By Anthony Gimino, The Sports Xchange  |  July 12, 2017 at 6:03 PM
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There has been offseason talk about realignment in the SEC, but perhaps the only way it works is putting Alabama on one side and 13 teams on the other.

Alabama has won four of the past eight national championships, has been SEC champion in four of the past five seasons and is the only team to advance to the College Football Playoff in each of the three years of its existence.

And the Crimson Tide are back for more: Alabama is the pick for No. 1 in various preseason publications.

Much of the talk through three days of SEC Media Days has been about chasing Alabama. Can anyone catch the Crimson Tide?

"I think there's a lot of parity in our league," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Alabama is 29-3 in the SEC over the past four seasons. Georgia has the next best record at 20-12.

Nobody disputes that Saban has acquired more raw talent than anybody in the country, but there are questions.

--Brian Daboll, most recently the tight ends coach for the New England Patriots, takes over as offensive coordinator. What will the attack look like?

"They are running a little bit of a different offense," defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said of informal offseason workouts. "I can't give you the details and everything."

--Quarterback Jalen Hurts, who won SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors as a true freshman last season, needs to be a better downfield passer.

True freshman Tua Tagovailoa was impressive in the spring, prompting a question Wednesday about a quarterback controversy. Saban bristled.

"We're not going to tolerate people making stuff up just to create interest," he said.

That said, Tagovailoa figures to get early playing time, if only to be ready in case of injury because Alabama has no experience at quarterback behind Hurts.

--Alabama lost seven defensive players to the NFL draft, all selected in the top four rounds. Saban cited "defensive identity" as his top concern.

"This is going to be one of the youngest teams that we've had probably since maybe 2012, especially on defense," Saban said.

--The right side of the offensive line is unsettled, with Saban saying he thought after the spring he had just four offensive linemen who had shown they could play winning football.

--Saban delivered a great line about motivation after losing last season's national title game to Clemson in the final second.

"I don't want to waste a failure," he said. But he also reiterated the difficulty of staying on the mountain top year after year.

"The challenge is not, 'Are you willing to do it?' but 'Why are you willing to do it?' To me, that creates your passion, and passion gives you the ability to sustain."

Can the Tide sustain one more season? Can anyone in the SEC catch 'Bama?

"The consistency of that program did not come overnight," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "But you can't argue that (Alabama) is the mark and that's where everybody wants to be."


--Alabama RB Bo Scarbrough and LB Shaun Dion Hamilton are expected to be full-go at the start of camp, Saban said. Scarbrough suffered a broken leg in the national championship game; Hamilton sustained a torn ACL in the SEC title game.

--Missouri coach Barry Odom returns 16 starters after going 4-8 in his debut season last year. "And when you win four games, guys, believe me, it hurts your soul," he said.

--Missouri RB Damarea Crockett ran for a school freshman-record 1,062 yards last season but was suspended for the final game. Odom said Crockett handled that punishment well and has to be ready for an even bigger role in 2017. "He's got a chance to be a game-changing player," Odom said.

--Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said he had "no idea" that his brother, Bob, was going to retire as Oklahoma's head coach during the offseason. "It's one of those moments you won't forget," Mark Stoops said. "He called me and it came out of the blue. It was a bit of a shock to be honest with you. ... Mixed emotions, I guess you would say. Very proud of him, what he's done, and very happy for him and Carol and his family, to be able to step away when he wants, how he wants. And that's Bob."

--Starting with last season, here is how Texas A&M has finished nationally in rushing defense in the past four years: 90th, 107th, 109th, 110th. Perhaps the hiring of strength coach Mark Hocke, who has experience at Alabama, Georgia and, most recently, Florida State, will help shore up that area. Sumlin mentioned "toughness" multiple times Wednesday.

"The biggest sign in our building says 'No excuses,'" he said.

--Texas A&M OT Koda Martin is set to marry the daughter of Syracuse head coach Dino Babers in a couple of weeks. Jazzmin Babers completed her eligibility as a volleyball player for the Aggies last season. Martin was asked if he is on a first-name basis with Dino Babers. "It's Coach Babers for now," he said with a smile.

--SEC Media Days concludes Thursday with coaches and players from Auburn, Ole Miss and South Carolina.

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