HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) – It's no secret that Alabama is one of the largest favorites to win another BCS National Championship in 2013. The Tide was chosen to win the Southeastern Conference by members of the media on Thursday, something that didn't come as a surprise to most of the 1,239 media members who attended SEC Media Days.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban, as is usually the case, was surprised, though. He noted the media's 4-17 record in picking the eventual SEC champion correctly.
"You as the media have only picked the right team four times to win the SEC. Now, if I was 4-17 as a coach, I would be back in West Virginia pumping my gas at my daddy's gas station, which we don't really want to go there," Saban quipped.
Saban, who is entering his seventh season in Tuscaloosa, has a team returning that has the potential to be as talented as other recent Alabama squads.
The Tide returns six starters on offense and seven starters on defense. However, many of the players who will likely take over for those who left have gained valuable experience the past few years. Former running back Eddie Lacy's departure would seem like a major loss for most squads, but Alabama has sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon ready to take the reins of the backfield.
Yeldon rushed for 1,108 yards as a freshman and 12 touchdowns. On Thursday, he was named to the Preseason Media Days All-SEC First Team on offense. In order for Yeldon to be successful in 2013, the offensive line is going to have to continue its reputation of being a powerful run-blocking team.
The Tide lost Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack to the NFL, which has caused many to question just how good the Alabama offense can be while shouldering the task of replacing those talents.
"We have questions about the development of the offensive line, but that seems to go very well. We have some very good skill players at wide receiver who have been very productive," Saban said of the new faces on the offensive line. "So we may have a little different type of team."
One of the players who returns to the line, senior right guard Anthony Steen, will likely be looked to as the experienced and vocal leader on a new-look line. But the task of rebuilding the unit, while daunting, isn't scary to Steen.
"It's really important, obviously, starting up front and losing those guys with just me and Cyrus left. We got guys that can step in and fill those shoes," Steen said.
Steen and Kouandjio will be the anchors on an offensive line that also has to protect fifth-year senior A.J. McCarron. McCarron, who was recently named to the Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award watch list, passed for 2,933 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2012.
In 2013, he has the benefit leading an offense full of guys he already has a good relationship with both on and off the field.
"The offensive line is going to be great. They're a great group of guys not only on the field but off," McCarron said. "We've got great receivers out wide all the way around, and we've got a whole lot of running backs. We're going to be fine, all I can say is sit back and watch us and hopefully we'll be fun to watch this year."
McCarron has the chance to win his third national title as the leader of the Crimson Tide offense, something that he doesn't take for granted.
"(I'm) Blessed. I don't know what else to say," he explained. "I was involved in a bad wreck when I was little. I feel like God's given me a second chance at life, he's kept his hand over me, and it's just been a blessing to do what I've done, to be here. I can't say anything else about it."
Another national title would be Saban's fifth as a head coach, something that would surely rank him among the top coaches of all-time. But even with four titles, Saban has consistently been measured and compared next to some of the greats, like Bear Bryant.
"I don't think I have any reason that anybody should do that. I think Bear Bryant is probably the greatest coach in college football in terms of what he accomplished, what his legacy is," Saban said. "There's a lot of Bear Bryant stories that I've learned a lot from, that have made me a better person. I certainly appreciate that, have a tremendous amount of respect for what he accomplished."
But before all the talk of another championship, before the accuracy or inaccuracy of all the preseason predictions are realized, the Tide has to first open its season on Aug. 31 to take on Virginia Tech. That game, the second time the Tide has opened against the Hokies since 2009, is on the forefront of Saban's mind.
"We start out with a very difficult opening schedule. Virginia Tech has been a 10-win team almost every year," he said. "That's going to be a very challenging game for us to open with in Atlanta."
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