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Alabama cautious about tag of favorites

 

Brandon Walker

 

HOOVER, Ala. - Most experts believe Alabama is the favorite to win the Southeastern Conference championship. Alabama fans certainly believe it. SEC media members clearly believe it, too, as Alabama was voted by the league's sports writers as the preseason choice to win the league this year. 

 

But does Alabama coach Nick Saban believe it? 

 

Judging from his address at SEC Media Days on Thursday, the thought hasn't even entered Saban's mind. 

 

"Having lost our last two games last year, I think it's a little bit different mindset with our players," said Saban. "We have to re-establish our identity as a team at Alabama. It's going to take every player to have a tremendous amount of buy-in for us to be able to do that." 

 

Only at Alabama could a two-game losing streak present the need to re-establish identity, but that's where Saban is. Having won three out of the last five national championships, Saban arrived at Media Days with a team picked as the favorite once again, and with nine players chosen to the league's preseason all-conference team, the talent is certainly in place to erase those two late-season losses. 

 

Returning 16 starters, including All-SEC picks T.J. Yeldon at tailback and Amari Cooper at wide receiver, Alabama is as loaded as any team in the SEC's Western Division. But questions remain at quarterback, where Alabama will likely rely on senior Blake Sims or junior Jacob Coker, a transfer from Florida State. While most outside observers believe Coker has a leg up in the competition, Saban was quick to dispel those notions. 

 

"That's really not internally the perception by me, our staff or our players," said Saban. "Jake Coker has the opportunity to come in and compete for the position. Blake Sims has been competing for the position, really did a pretty good job in the spring. So there's going to be a competition there." 

 

The competition is necessary due to the loss of former starter A.J. McCarron, who led the Tide to a pair of national championships. Coker passed for 295 yards and one touchdown in two years at Florida State, where he served as the backup to 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. 

 

Helping ease the transition for whichever quarterback takes the reins will be another talked-about newcomer in Tuscaloosa, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. 

 

Kiffin has been a head coach at USC and Tennessee, and his arrival at Alabama has been met with some criticism. 

 

That criticism is unwarranted according to Cooper. 

 

"Coach Kiffin is a great coach and a great person to be around," said Cooper. "He brings that quality to the team. I think we can constantly compete for a championship. Coach is a likable guy. He wants you to have fun playing football." 

 

Alabama's 2014 schedule includes home games against Auburn, Florida and Mississippi State along with road trips to LSU and Ole Miss. The Tide will open the season in Atlanta with a Chik Fil A Kickoff Game against West Virginia. 

 

'It's crazy' 

 

While Saban and Alabama's three player representatives - Cooper, safety Landon Collins and linebacker Trey DePriest - spoke to media on the second floor of the Wynfrey Hotel, the first floor was awash in crimson and white, as Alabama fans turned out in huge numbers in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Crimson Tide contingent. 

 

"It seems like they (the fans) love the game more than the players," said Cooper. "They are excited each week. It's crazy out there." 

 

No interest 

 

The final question Saban fielded from the assembled media regarded rumors in the spring that he had conversations with the University of Texas to become its new football coach, a job eventually given to former Louisville coach Charlie Strong. 

 

Saban indicated conversations with Texas never happened. 

 

"Well, I didn't have any conversations with them," said Saban. "Nobody offered me anything. So I guess if I didn't have any conversations with them, I didn't have very much interest." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Brandon Walker on Twitter @BWonStateBeat

 

 

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