<
>

Alabama not worried about expectations

The cheers could be heard through the closed double doors of the second floor ballroom in the Wynfrey hotel.

The Alabama fans had arrived.

Well, they had been there hours before, but they were making sure anyone who didn't see the group sandwiched together in the downstairs lobby heard their thunderous presence.

It was nothing unusual at SEC media days. Alabama is always the main attraction. Auburn might be the reigning national champion, but the Tigers’ popularity wasn't remotely close to Alabama's. In fact, two Auburn players strolled easily through the mall attached to the Wynfrey for a quick bite and went relatively unnoticed. Human buffers surrounded Alabama players and coach Nick Saban during their entire trip to the Wynfrey, as crazed fans looked for autographs and pictures.

It was like watching Will Smith hand-in-hand with Jennifer Aniston walk into a room to promote a new blockbuster movie.

Saban and his players hit the ballroom to greet the media after 9:30 a.m., but the feverish fans were there to welcome their team hours before.

Players didn’t see the fans when they arrived because they crept through the back door, but hearing about their fans’ devotion brought nothing but boyish smiles.

“I love it,” linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “There’s one thing I can say about Alabama: I don’t think you’re going to find any place in the this country that you’re going to find better fans than Alabama fans. They follow you everywhere. There’s probably going to be just as many people in Beaver Stadium when we play Penn State.

“If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is. When you have someone depending on you, when you have people adoring you, obsessed with you because you’re doing something they love to watch and love to come watch you play, I love it.”

Bama fans bombard the Wynfrey each year, but so much is expected from the Tide this season. With the tremendous talent returning on both offense and defense, Alabama was the overwhelming media favorite to win the SEC this year and most have the Tide pegged as a national title contender.

There are concerns with a quarterback battle that features two players -- A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims - with very little experience. However, two positives are that the winner will be able to heavily lean on stud junior running back Trent Richardson and will be protected by an extremely experienced offensive line.

Arguably the most impressive aspect of Alabama’s roster is the defense, which has been smothered with preseason accolades this summer.

Saban doesn’t look at or care about preseason rankings. They don’t mean anything to him. He even took a shot at the media for its predictions made in Hoover, Ala., last week.

“Even though I have a tremendous amount of respect for the intelligence level and your ability to prognosticate, which we really can't do, I'm not capable of doing, I don't understand how you come to the decisions that you come to,” Saban said.

Senior safety Mark Barron tends to agree with his coach. He’s not feeding into the hype, either, and said it’s not something he ever thinks about.

“I don’t pay it no mind,” he said.

Expectations don't motivate the Tide. What does is the devastation Tuscaloosa suffered from the deadly tornadoes in late April and the loss of teammate Aaron Douglas in May.

This team feels like it's playing for much more now, and Richardson said he hopes a successful football season will bring some jubilation back to the community.

"You've got a situation where people lost everything in Tuscaloosa," he said, "lots of people lost hope. We want to bring joy back to the town.