TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — So Alabama is No. 1.
Yeah, what else is new?
At least that’s the way the football program is approaching it. After months of being hailed by nearly every preseason publication as the team to beat in 2016-17, the Amway Coaches’ Poll made it official Thursday morning when the reigning national champions landed 55 of 64 first-place votes.
Needless to say, it’s familiar territory for the Crimson Tide—so familiar that Nick Saban wasn’t even asked about it during his press conference. In fairness, it was partly due to the number of questions the head coach fielded about players who had been involved in off-field incidents.
“I didn’t even know that,” redshirt sophomore center Ross Pierschbacher said of the ranking. “We really don’t care.
“It just matters where we are at the end of the season.”
It’s a cliche answer and proof he was paying attention when Alabama players went through their annual media training the night before. But it’s also true.
Senior defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson didn’t have any idea the Crimson Tide had been voted No. 1 either. Their focus was on something else—getting through the first practice of training camp in the Alabama heat. The temperature was measured at 96 degrees and the heat index at 108.
“Obviously we have a lot of tremendous challenges facing us this year,” Saban said. “If you’re a competitor, you certainly look forward to those challenges. I think the team is excited.”
Not thinking about rankings is just what Saban wants, and no one has more experience in dealing with a team coming off a championship than him. You know the age-old question about whether it’s tougher to get to the top or to stay there. Alabama knows it’s the latter.
Besides, among the top four teams from last year’s preseason poll, which in order was Ohio State, TCU, Alabama and Baylor, only the Crimson Tide met that expectation and landed a spot in the College Football Playoff.
So business as usual was the theme, even though Alabama’s new additions to the roster were just beginning to figure out how the Crimson Tide go about things.
Some of the other exceptions were redshirt freshman Blake Barnett showing he’s gained some necessary weight (he’s listed as 6’5”, 211 pounds) and now looks more like an SEC quarterback, running back Bo Scarbrough was slowed after having cramp issues early on and Karl Dunbar wore sweatpants and a long-sleeve shirt in his debut as defensive line coach.
“He said he might take those off,” Tomlinson said with a laugh. “It was a hot one out there.”
Moreover, the players who had some off-field issues during the offseason were all where they were expected to be during the media’s observation period. Cam Robinson was at left tackle with the first-unit offensive line, Hootie Jones worked with the reserve defensive backs and guard Alphonse Taylor practiced in the back of the offensive linemen, a signal that he’ll have to work his way back up the depth chart.
Otherwise, about the only thing that appeared to be different was Saban opted to hold just one practice. He usually holds two on the first day, splitting the team into two parts so the younger guys can get a little more attention and ease into things. The coach didn’t feel the need with this group (which includes massive defensive lineman Raekwon Davis, who at 6’7”, 315 lbs, was as big as advertised).
But Alabama’s ranking was important for more than the obvious reason that every program covets the distinction.
First, it made history. This is the ninth straight year Alabama has been ranked No. 1 at some point of the season.
Second, the poll is not a good omen for the Crimson Tide.
If the spotlight of being the reigning champions wasn’t difficult enough, no team has been No. 1 in both the preseason and final coaches’ poll since Southern California in 2004.
This is the third time under Saban that Alabama will open a season ranked first by the coaches. In 2010 it lost three games, the last time the Crimson Tide didn’t play in what was then known as a BCS-level bowl. In 2013, Alabama went undefeated until the “Kick Six” game at Auburn followed by the loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Those are the only two times since 2008 that Alabama didn’t finish in the Top 5 of the final poll.
Finally, the schedule trap is firmly set.
Last year, Alabama faced nine opponents that were ranked at the time, the most of any national champion since the poll era began in 1936.
As of now, Alabama is scheduled to play just four ranked opponents this fall—at No. 6 LSU, at No. 10 Tennessee, at No. 12 Ole Miss and No. 17 Southern California at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 3.
Another five received votes, but all the Crimson Tide have to do is overlook one opponent.
But this was just the first day of training camp. Regardless of the poll, the players knew what was coming, reigning champion or not.
“I think he’s harder on us either way,” Tomlinson said about Saban. “Win or not it’s going to be the same exact thing.
“Each season we’re going to have to come back and prove something to someone, even ourselves. If we win we have to come back and prove that we can win again, but if we fall short one year we have to come back and prove that we want to win.”
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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