SEC Media Days 2013: Alabama Still Faces Some Difficulties

USA TODAY Sports

Nick Saban on how tough it is to find opponents, and AJ McCarron on how tough it is to avoid the ESPN sideshow about Johnny Manziel

You would think that life is pretty good for Nick Saban right now. His team has won the national championship three out of the last four years, and won the SEC two of those times. Following Saban's first season in Tuscaloosa, he is 61-7 as head coach of the Tide, and 39-5 in regular season SEC games. Perhaps, freed from the burden of having to prove anything anymore, it would be a chipper Nick Saban who showed up at SEC Media Days.

No such luck. Saban announced that it was his 12th trip to Hoover, seeming genuinely pained that he even had to make the annual trek. But that wasn't all -- it was "hard to believe this is my 12th SEC Media Days," he said. And so began a list of things that Saban, one of the best coaches in college football, said was still hard for him or his team. They included, mostly, a desire to find other teams to beat, almost like a player who's still unfulfilled after beating his favorite video game with the difficulty turned all the way up.

  • "But it's very difficult for us to schedule home-and-home games with other conferences and other teams.
    "So to now all of a sudden try to play 10 quality opponents, we've always tried to play nine, now I'm sort of thinking we need to play 10, without playing one of those [neutral-site] games, it would be very difficult for us to do that. That's one of the other reasons that I support having nine teams in the conference, nine conference games, because it's difficult to schedule out-of-conference games."
  • "Our expectation is always going to be that [the LSU game is] going to be one of the most difficult games that we have in our season."
  • "But I think in the world that we live in, it is impossible to schedule more than 10 games with real quality opponents. It's very difficult. It's very difficult from a financial business standpoint because everybody wants to play more home games for business reasons, which means financial reasons."

The last answer was truly bizarre, given that Saban was basically arguing that Alabama had no choice on whether to schedule FCS games. There's just no one who wants to play Alabama in a home-and-home. Boise State, put your hand back down. Or perhaps it's the bean-counters' fault, because they have so much more sway when it comes to Alabama football than Nick Saban.

Of course, Saban wasn't the only one having a difficult time Thursday. AJ McCarron was in the process of dodging questions about his role as Johnny Manziel's roommate at the now-infamous Manning Passing Academy. He asked about whether he tried to wake Manziel up. (Yes, this has now gotten to the point where the quarterback on the defending national championship team was asked about whether he woke up the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.)

"Like I said earlier, I'm not going to go down that route," McCarron said. "It was an honor for me to be there, my third year in a row I was blessed to have that opportunity. I can only speak on myself. I was ready to get out there and be able to work with the Mannings, such a great group of guys. and then have the opportunity to coach the younger kids out there paying to be there. I had to do my job."

Of course, it's not terribly hard to read a criticism of Manziel -- who didn't coach the paying youngsters and didn't do his job -- in between the lines of what McCarron said. But, lest you think that the Alabama program was going to take any chances on McCarron getting sullied by his closeness to the Manziel situation, rest assured it was not.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron tried unsuccessfully to wake his roommate, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, at least one morning at the Manning Passing Camp, a source told ESPN.

So let's do some deduction here. The story is datelined Hoover, where Manziel no longer is. There's no reason for Manziel to put this information out, and it's very likely that only Manziel, McCarron and someone who had talked to McCarron in the interim would have known this. So let's drop the pretense: This came from Alabama.

Which is fine. Given the three-ring circus that ESPN has started around Johnny Manziel's sleeping habits, I can understand the desire for Alabama to try to distance McCarron from it. But if that's the case, why not go ahead and allow McCarron to say that?

It might be a hard thing to do, and it might even become a distraction for a couple of days. But, as Saban pointed out Thursday, sometimes even national champions face a bit of difficulty.

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