The fine line between Alabama not fielding a football team this year and Alabama being The Times' preseason No. 1 is the arbitrary variance of a compass degree. Post-tornado life in Tuscaloosa is bad enough. Life without football would have been intolerable. In a state with no major professional sports, college football is the fulcrum of recovery. "Lots of people lost everything," Crimson Tide safety Mark Barron said. "They lost material things, but they also lost hope. When the season starts, they follow Alabama, so if we go out and have a great season for them, we can give them a little something back."
Anytime the subject of expansionapalooza comes up, we gravitate toward the "end game" scenario of four 16-team conferences. In a vacuum, it makes some amount of sense to think in these terms, and we have inevitably read (or written) some 64-team mock-up in which current conference affiliation is discarded and a perfect, playoff-friendly layout is installed. But this obviously only works on paper; nobody's dissolving all conferences and starting over, at least not until Jim Delany is dead and buried. (And even then, his demon spirit will probably remain Big Ten commissioner.) If the "four 16-teamers" scenario is going to happen, it would have to come about organically, and the math just doesn't work.
The Bulldogs open what might be Mark Richt’s last season by playing a team some folks think will be the eventual national champion. Boise State has revenge on its mind, given that Georgia opened the 2005 season by bursting the bubble of this "BCS buster." In the seasons since, most have conveniently forgotten just how bad Boise looked in that game, enthralled by the Broncos’ blue field and frenetic offense. Georgia, this time, is the team with something to prove, and especially Richt, as he fights for his job. The Bulldogs don’t need any injuries, particularly in the offensive backfield. Boise State will be trying to replace a wide receiver corps that was aces in 2010. The Broncos had impressive stats on both sides of the ball in 2010, but the defensive performances were notably less impressive when the Broncos played top-conference schools. Biggest key? Boise must find a way to stop Georgia QB Aaron Murray – with a secondary that has only one returning starter.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban probably doesn’t want anyone to talk about Kent State as a "tune-up" opponent, but honesty demands the Golden Flashes be described as such. Kent State had an ineffective offense in 2010, but was one of the country’s best teams at defending the run. Until late in the season, KSU managed to stay clear of any blowout losses, including a couple of respectable showings against Boston College and Penn State. But the Golden Flashes haven’t seen talent the likes of what they’ll face in Tuscaloosa.
"I would say that we're very, very excited to open the season for a lot of different reasons. First of all, I think our players are probably tired of practicing against one another and are looking forward to the season, the competition, and trying to create an identity for themselves, which I think is always the challenge for any team. Also maybe for the sake of our community, from the standpoint of giving people from a spiritual standpoint something else to think about, something else to be passionate about, something else to create hope about and also to continue to create awareness for the community. A lot of people are going to come to the game and see Tuscaloosa maybe for the first time and maybe that will inspire some people to continue to try to help to rebuild our community."
The official UA depth chart listed Dee Milliner and Marquise Maze as kickoff returners, but Saban said running back Trent Richardson will also see action in that role. Richardson returned kickoffs last season "We'll still use Trent in that regard. We weren't going to start him in this particular game," Saban said. "... We want to see if there are some other players we can create roles for in that regard. That doesn't mean Trent Richardson won't wind up doing it again this year."
The turning point was spring practice, the A-Day Game in particular. Hightower made five tackles, including a sack, and had three quarterback hurries. "After the A-Day Game, if that doesn't tell you I'm back up to 100 percent, then I don't know what to tell you," he said.
"He's a really special player," senior center William Vlachos said. "Sometimes he looks like Orlando Pace out there at left tackle. Other times he looks like a freshman, as he should. I continue to bring him along. ... "It started this summer when we were working out. We'd walk through some plays as a group. He'd say, Hey, I heard you say a call. What does that mean? How does that apply to me.' He's really willing to learn ... and has as much ability as anybody. He's got a very bright future.
Carter has lived in Tuscaloosa since July, and did some seven-on-seven work with various players during the summer. He has stayed up to speed with Alabama's offense working with his father, former NFL All-Pro receiver Cris Carter, an ESPN NFL analyst. "He's working," Johnson said. "Everybody noticed today he's kind of going a little extra hard. I mean you have to respect the fact that he's doing what he's doing and he's just working. He wants to get on the field, you can tell."
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
THE BUZZ: Saban, who turns 60 on Halloween, has won national titles at LSU and Alabama, and he and Bear Bryant are the only two coaches to win SEC titles at two schools.
Marty Lyons will be honored Saturday with an on-campus salute prior to Alabama's game against Kent State on Saturday morning at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Lyons was selected for induction for Football Bowl Subdivision College Football Hall of Fame. The ceremony is slated for Dec. 6 in New York City.
"Versatility certainly can't hurt you at the next level," Jones said. "...Really, that's not the main reason I'm doing it obviously. I'm doing it because as an offensive line you want to find a way to get your best five out there. Not only that, but you want to find a unit that works good. I think that's why I've been trying so many combinations and so many pieces to the puzzle."
Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin had a phone conversation with Missouri chancellor and Big 12 Conference board chairman Brady Deaton on Monday night about his university's desire to withdraw from the conference, a Big 12 source confirmed to ESPN's Joe Schad on Tuesday. Texas A&M could send its formal, written letter of departure as early as this week, the source said. The only holdups are threats of litigation by Big 12 members and the need to clarify exit fees. The New York Times said in a story posted on its Web site Monday night that Loftin sent a letter to Deaton to inform the league it was leaving. Texas A&M denied that report, saying Tuesday it has not sent a letter of withdrawal to the Big 12.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno said it's "50-50" whether he will coach from the sideline or upstairs in the press box for Saturday's opener against Indiana State. Paterno was briefly hospitalized earlier this month when a Nittany Lions receiver ran into him during practice, injuring his right shoulder and pelvis.
Unfortunately, LSU’s troubles haven’t completely ended. Miles revealed that senior offensive guard Josh Dworaczyk will likely miss significant playing time with an unspecified leg injury that will require surgery in the next two weeks. With Jordan Jefferson suspended, Dworaczyk is LSU’s most experienced returning starter with 26 starts. It’s yet another blow for a Tiger offense that will be without Jefferson and wide receiver Russell Shepard, who is also suspended.