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Jumbo Package: Alabama football returns to 2020 COVID protocols, but full stadium still expected

Your latest Crimson Tide news and notes.

NCAA Football: New Mexico State at Alabama John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday, everyone. Football practice starts today, and Nick Saban has announced that they will be returning to the 2020 COVID protocols for the entire fall camp and into the regular season.

“We’re still going to be very cautious indoors and meetings and so forth on trying not to have an issue with the COVID,” Saban said Thursday at an event celebrating his Nick’s Kid’s Foundation.

As of Wednesday, DCH hospital in Tuscaloosa reported 88 inpatients were being treated for COVID-19. That’s up drastically from the six who were hospitalized July 6.

There was a considerable outbreak when students returned to campus last August and September so the football team isn’t taking any chances.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am about to say as there is no doubt in my mind that the health and safety of the players is top priority here, but if you think Nick Saban doesn’t relish the opportunity to again keep eyeballs off his practice field then you don’t know Nick Saban. Byrne does note in there that he still expects to have a full stadium this fall.

In the most recent example of the pettiness that is college football, the Big 12 decided to remove Texas AD Chris Del Conte because the ‘Horns decided to bolt the league.

A CFP spokesman told ESPN the Big 12, which has the capacity to name its representative, made the decision to replace Del Conte. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has publicly criticized the secretive process that led to his flagship programs leaving for the SEC.

“Given what has occurred,” Bowlsby told ESPN on Wednesday, “we felt we would be better represented by another of our ADs.”

Del Conte was not immediately available for comment.

Guess we’ll see what impact, if any, this has on SEC teams in the rankings.

ESPN staff collaborated on a consensus power ranking.

Season outlook: Another year, another championship, another rebuild. Replacing DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris and Mac Jones on offense won’t be easy. Nor will it be easy to recreate the magic of Steve Sarkisian calling plays. But Nick Saban went out and got a former college and pro coach in Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator. John Metchie is back at receiver, along with veteran running back Brian Robinson. All eyes will be on projected starting quarterback Bryce Young, though. The dynamic former five-star recruit was Jones’ understudy last season and has all the tools to be an all-conference player. How he deals with the learning curve of major college football will go a long way toward determining whether Alabama reloads and competes for another championship. — Alex Scarborough

Bill Bender at Sporting News has some predictions.

SEC champion: Alabama

The Crimson Tide have challenges given the heavy attrition to the NFL Draft, and Saban admitted at SEC Media Days that the Crimson Tide would be “a work in progress.” A tough opener against Miami and loaded SEC schedule are on the docket, and Georgia appears to be the closest challenger.

We are still picking the Crimson Tide. Look for Alabama to continue its run with another SEC championship and visit the usual suspects in the College Football Playoff.

Joey Galloway and David Pollack argued over whether the Tide will go undefeated.

ESPN also analyzed the biggest challenges facing each new hire from this offseason’s coaching carousel.

Biggest challenge: The Texas job is almost inexplicably a pressure cooker. The Longhorns have the resources, allure and recruiting base to contend with anyone, but have won just three Big 12 titles since its founding, and one of those was an 8-5 season in its first year under John Mackovic. Sarkisian says the roster has the talent to win now, but Texas has always had the talent to win now and hasn’t won a conference title since 2009. Bijan Robinson could be a breakout star for him the same way Ricky Williams was for Mack Brown in his first year, and could help build some momentum, which Sarkisian will need. — Wilson

The bigger challenge is a delusional fanbase that believes their program to be something other than what it is. The SEC is basically adding a richer Georgia with a louder mouth.

Meanwhile, Bob Bowlsby is desperately seeking someone, anyone, to save his job.

Kliavkoff and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby met Tuesday to discuss whether an alignment between the two conferences makes sense going forward, sources tell CBS Sports. There are a number of options up for discussion between the two Power Five big-wigs, ranging from a simple scheduling alliance to something more drastic like a merger between the leagues.

This after a report emerged last week that Texas Tech had reached out to the Pac-12 directly despite the eight remaining Big 12 schools appearing to be united for now.

Last, Najee Harris made his NFL preseason debut last night, and his head coach seems pleased.

“I thought that he showed some of the things that he’s been showing in practice settings,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, “and that’s what we were looking for. We weren’t looking for the spectacular. I talked to him and others during the course of the week. We wanted to make the routine plays routinely. We wanted the pile to fall forward and things of that nature. He did all the things we’ve been watching him do, so a really good start for him.”

That man is going to be a star.

That’s about it for today. Have a great weekend.

Roll Tide.