Tide handling the hype

Published 5:38 pm Monday, August 30, 2010

TUSCALOOSA (AP) — Nick Saban didn’t so much as raise his voice. The trademark scowl never made even a cameo appearance.

Sure seems like No. 1 Alabama’s top ranking and elephant-sized expectations are becoming the status quo around here, judging by Monday’s rather tame first game-week news conference.

The players dismissed the defending national champions’ top preseason billing going into Saturday night’s opener against San Jose State.

Saban didn’t rail against the dangers of complacency. Instead, he praised the “great camps” of stars such as receiver Julio Jones, left tackle James Carpenter and running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. And the “very good” ones of linebacker Dont’a Hightower and safety Mark Barron.

“A lot of the players that have been there show no signs of not paying attention to detail, not working to improve,” Saban said. “I think the bigger concern is the maturity of the guys who haven’t had the responsibility to this point, how they’re going to respond to it. I’m sure that there will be a maturing process that goes with their first game. How much they learn and grow from it is probably going to determine how quickly we can improve.”

Well, sure. But how about all the pressure, the hype, that comes with being No. 1 — even if it is only August?

“We don’t pay attention to that,” said Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner. “No. 1 doesn’t mean anything, because everybody’s 0-0. If you win games, you’re going to be successful. You know? No. 1 really doesn’t mean anything around here. We just focus on every single week, preparing the right way, getting our gameplan together.”

Sounds kind of humdrum.

Even though Alabama enters a season atop the rankings for the first time since the Bear Bryant era in 1978, most of the current players have been here before. They spent all last season in the top five, and went 14-0.

They spent more than a month ranked No. 1 in 2008 before stumbling in the SEC championship game.

The Tide’s record in those two seasons: 26-2.

“Our expectations for our own team are so high now,” quarterback Greg McElroy said. “Obviously we just demand a lot of ourselves. We demand a lot in our preparation and we expect a lot from this team. I think for us to expect anything less than great things from this team obviously would be unimpressive. We’re really looking forward to the opportunity to go out there and compete again. I think this team has made the improvements necessary to really be a complete football team and be able to dominate Saturdays like we know how to.”

All that might also have something to do with opening against a San Jose State team coming off a 2-10 season. The Tide started the past two years against Clemson and Virginia Tech in nationally televised, much hyped games.

The big-game trappings will come in Game 2 this time, when Alabama hosts No. 19 Penn State.

“We play Penn State as the heavyweight, it just happens to fall on a day a week later in the season,” Saban said. “I’ve always said in the past that when you open with a team that the players have a tremendous amount of respect for because of their national reputation, you get a little better attention to detail in the entire offseason, in spring practice and in fall camp because they are geared up for that game.

“I think in this case our players definitely respect the team that we’re playing, they’re showing good due-diligence in their preparation for the game.”

The presumably easier opener will give a young defense some much needed seasoning.

The Tide has nine new defensive starters, including three sophomores. The depth chart released Monday also has junior college transfer DeQuan Menzie at right cornerback some five months after he tore his Achilles’ tendon.

Starting linebacker Chavis Williams is a senior but has played almost exclusively on special teams his first three seasons. The defense could be even more youthful if end Marcell Dareus isn’t cleared to play by the NCAA.

Dareus is listed as a first-teamer but is under scrutiny for a trip to Miami. Saban said he had nothing new to report on Dareus. Sophomore Undra Billingsley is his backup.

The coach said a game’s the best way to test young players, not preseason practices.

“That’s ultimately what you have to learn about them: How are they going to compete on game day?” he said. “Some guys play better when the game comes and some guys who practice very well don’t complete nearly as well when the game comes. I don’t think you can figure that out until the game comes.

“If hot peppers give you a bellyache, you can’t figure it out until you eat hot peppers.”

Finally, a spicy comment from Saban.