2. Alabama: Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are both gone, but senior Nico Johnson and junior C.J. Mosley return as two of the top linebackers in the SEC. Mosley might be the best coverage linebacker in the league. The Crimson Tide have also recruited like mad, and younger players such as sophomore Jack linebacker Adrian Hubbard are ready to make their move.
3. C.J. Mosley, Jr., Alabama: He shared time at one of the middle linebacker spots last year and suffered an elbow injury early in the year, but Mosley has the potential to be a top talent in this league. He's big, strong, extremely athletic and has a real high football IQ. He's also Alabama's best linebacker in coverage.
The guy who needs a big season: McCarron. There’s no question he has the offensive players to field a successful team, but there’s so much more that goes into a winning effort. Alabama will need McCarron’s leadership in crucial road games at Arkansas and LSU, and the offense will need to take the pressure off of an inexperienced defense by managing the clock and minimizing turnovers. Since Saban took over at Alabama in 2007, it’s rarely been necessary for a quarterback to do more than just manage the game, but McCarron needs to be up to that challenge this season.
2. Alabama has to replace seven starters on the No. 1 defense in America. What position concerns Nick Saban the most? With two BCS titles in the past three seasons, Saban is the best head coach in college football. A little-known fact outside the state of Alabama is that Saban might also be the best secondary coach in the country. He'll have to be if the Crimson Tide are going to make a run at another title. Three of four starters in the secondary are gone, including safety Mark Barron and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. In order to get some immediate help at corner, Saban brought in a pair of juco All-Americans, Deion Belue and Travell Dixon, who were in Tuscaloosa this spring. Based on my last conversation with Saban, both Belue and Dixon will be ready to play against Michigan on Sept. 1. "Our system is not as complicated as some people make it out to be," Saban said. "Both guys picked it up well, and I expect them to contribute." The rule of thumb in the SEC is that you don't bring in juco players to sit on the bench.
Among the top linebackers expected to be in attendance are a pair of elite defenders from the state of Louisiana, Clinton star Kendell Beckwith and Baton Rouge playmaker Tim Williams. Both players have expressed positive feelings about Alabama but are also being heavily pursued by in-state power LSU. Snellville, Georgia linebacker Shaun McGee has been an under-the-radar prospect for the Tide, mostly due to his perceived favoritism towards Georgia, but according to BamaOnline's Charles Power the 6-foot-2, 235-pound defender visited Tuscaloosa on Sunday and came away impressed with the Tide.
"I have agreed with the league that I will stay at least a couple of more years, and then we'll sit down and decide what happens after that," said Slive, who makes just over $1 million a year. "Don't forget it takes two. It's not just me making a unilateral decision. Both of us need to make that decision."
The hodgepodge of what eventually will be four separate contracts — one for each of the three bowls, plus the playoffs — illustrates how convoluted the financial side of the new playoff structure remains. While conference commissioners basked in the glow of their playoff announcement last month, that was the easy part. The harder part — determining how the money will be distributed — remains a significant obstacle. "It’s terribly complex," said Craig Thompson, commissioner of the Mountain West. "There are a ton of moving parts. Right now, we have more questions than we have answers. When you have different levels of stakeholders and different contracts involved, you just have to work through it and that takes time."
I'm asked, and often, what the experience is like. Did I enjoy it? No. The first trip to SEC Media Days is fun for anyone. It's a thing. It's kind of a big deal. At least, on the surface it's a big deal because it is a room theorhetically packed with celebrity. And as a 22-year-old kid trying to break his way into the field of sports media, it's easy to get caught up in a lot of flash bulbs and crowds of bearded gentlemen wearing fedoras with an index card reading "PRESS" distinctively displayed in the band. But it gets old very quickly. I realize that sounds "spoiled" or maybe even like some kind of "humble brag," but it's true. It's a zoo. When asked which event I have most enjoyed covering, I will typically answer with the SEC Baseball Tournament at Regions Park or SEC Media Days: Basketball Edition (at the Sheraton on Highway 280).
The aptly named fallweddingssuck.com sums up the tension between the start of football season and the end of peak-season weddings. Some couples schedule around football season, but mild weather, attractive fall foliage and off-peak prices for weddings and honyemoons make it hard to disregard completely, said Sharon Naylor, author of 35 wedding books including "1001 Ways to Save Money and Still Have a Dazzling Wedding." In fact, September (16.5%) and October (13.5%) are the two most popular months for weddings after June (16.7%), according to TheWeddingReport.com.
An Olympic gold medal, a silver one too, most of the softball records at Alabama and now the chance to play softball professionally have given the 32-year-old Satellite High graduate more than a a few reasons to smile. Kelly, looking trim and fit, spent a few minutes chatting with me Saturday before taking batting practice at Space Coast Stadium, where her team, the USSSA Pride, were playing the Chicago Bandits in a twi-night doubleheader. "It’s exciting, it’s always fun to come back home," she said surveying the field and the empty stands. "Hopefully, people will come out and see what fast-pitch is all about."