The ins and outs of Alabama football may be considered old hat, especially as Nick Saban enters his thirteenth season at the University, but this season will signal the return of a rarity not seen since 1948: an Iron Bowl before the end of regular season conference play.
The Crimson Tide’s new schedule was released via the SEC Network this Monday. Alabama’s original schedule was completely reorganized, save for games against Tennessee and Auburn. Alabama will begin its season against Missouri and close against Arkansas rather than Auburn.
Saban has been pushing for a larger conference schedule the last few years as a way to boost competition and to keep Bryant Denny Stadium at full capacity for all four quarters unlike games against non-power-five schools.
“I’ve been a guy who has wanted to play 10 SEC games for a long time,” Saban said. “Every week you’re going to have a very very good opponent. Hopefully, it will be good for the fans.”
In his Monday press conference, Saban advocated for his players to be able to play football this year and discussed this year’s version of fall camp as well as the new SEC schedule.
Saban wouldn’t say if any players were opting out of the season or if any players had discussed it, but Saban did say that he wanted this season to mean something to the players that did play.
“I think the players that play should have an opportunity to have a playoff and have a championship,” Saban said.
Saban has also considered not putting all the starters in the same groups in case of an outbreak, he said.
Key injuries for players like senior linebacker Dylan Moses and former quarterback Tua Tagovalia have been a consistent problem for the team the past couple years. Those injuries resulted in both players missing significant time last season. All of the players that missed some or most of the season last year, like Moses, are in good health and participated in practice, Saban said.
“They’re all good to go,” Saban said. “They’ve been going all summer, all spring. Yeah, they’ve been going, so it’s not a problem.”
In the past two years, for the first time since 2007, Alabama was not a top 15 overall defense. Saban will be looking to Moses to help the defense improve in the red zone and bring the physicality that’s been missing in the past two years.
“I think we need better leadership,” Saban said. “I think Dylan Moses can provide some of that.”
Despite the lack of spring training or true summer or fall camps, Saban said he was feeling confident in the team’s new defensive backs after replacing four of the five major players from last year.
As far as obstacles go, the all-SEC schedule will play second fiddle to lingering concerns over COVID-19, which Saban revisited Monday.
Only 1% of UA players had tested positive in the last couple of weeks, Saban said. This number is down from the previously reported 2% from July 4 to Aug. 10, which Saban reported to ESPN. Saban also advocated for the #WeWantToPlay movement, a hashtag that has recently graced the Twitter feeds of some of Bama’s star players.
“I don’t fear this because we’re trying to do the right thing and we have great medical care here,” Saban said. “The bubble we have here, we have been very successful with.”
Saban was emphatic about having a college football season and stressed that his players had been taken great care of. Alabama football’s fall camp began Monday, when Saban had his first press conference of the 2020-21 year.
“We continue to try to give our players an opportunity to play. They want to play,” Saban said. “Every player on our team has been told, ‘You don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.'”
In addition to the opportunity to opt out of this season, Saban explained that the team was constantly being informed about COVID-19 news and the best ways to stay safe. He also noted that guest speakers like the Surgeon General would be speaking to the team.
Saban also noted all the ways he’s personally staying safe, such as wearing a mask in public places and physical social distancing from players, coaches and even his mother.
“When I go see my mother, we sit 10 feet apart on a park bench and talk for 45 minutes or an hour,” Saban said. “I say, ‘Mom, I’m not giving you a hug today because I love you.’”
In response to students and parents not wearing masks at public gatherings on the Strip on Bid Day, Saban said the medical experts who have been pleading for people to wear masks “aren’t doing it for the heck of it” and that people should take it seriously.
“I’m not criticizing anybody here, but a lot of people have asked that we wear masks when we’re in public,” Saban said. “I think there is a reason for it. We’re trying to control the spread of this disease, and I think our ability to do that is going to go a long way to say whether we can play football or not.”
At the end of the press conference, Saban made one call to action, encouraging people to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“I think democracy is great and people who have these freedoms are great,” Saban said. “But the common denominator that makes that work is great moral integrity in the decisions people make… I think there’s a lot of changes we have to make in our lifestyle and the things that we do to stay safe.”