Ho hum. It’s business as usual for No. 1 Tide

Nick Saban didn’t so much as raise his voice. The trademark

scowl never made even a cameo appearance.

Sure seems as if No. 1 Alabama’s top ranking and elephant-sized

expectations are becoming the status quo around here, judging by

Monday’s rather tame first game-week news conference.

The players dismissed the defending national champions’ top

preseason billing going into Saturday night’s opener against San

Jose State.

Saban didn’t rail against the dangers of complacency. Instead,

he praised the ”great camps” of stars such as receiver Julio

Jones, left tackle James Carpenter and running backs Mark Ingram

and Trent Richardson. And the ”very good” ones of linebacker

Dont’a Hightower and safety Mark Barron.

”A lot of the players that have been there show no signs of not

paying attention to detail, not working to improve,” Saban said.

”I think the bigger concern is the maturity of the guys who

haven’t had the responsibility to this point, how they’re going to

respond to it. I’m sure that there will be a maturing process that

goes with their first game. How much they learn and grow from it is

probably going to determine how quickly we can improve.”

Well, sure. But how about all the pressure, the hype, that comes

with being No. 1 – even if it is only August?

”We don’t pay attention to that,” said Ingram, the Heisman

Trophy winner. ”No. 1 doesn’t mean anything, because everybody’s

0-0. If you win games, you’re going to be successful. You know? No.

1 really doesn’t mean anything around here. We just focus on every

single week, preparing the right way, getting our gameplan


Sounds kind of humdrum.

Even though Alabama enters a season atop the rankings for the

first time since the Bear Bryant era in 1978, most of the current

players have been here before. They spent all last season in the

top five, and went 14-0.

They spent more than a month ranked No. 1 in 2008 before

stumbling in the SEC championship game.

The Tide’s record in those two seasons: 26-2.

”Our expectations for our own team are so high now,”

quarterback Greg McElroy said. ”Obviously we just demand a lot of

ourselves. We demand a lot in our preparation and we expect a lot

from this team. I think for us to expect anything less than great

things from this team obviously would be unimpressive. We’re really

looking forward to the opportunity to go out there and compete

again. I think this team has made the improvements necessary to

really be a complete football team and be able to dominate

Saturdays like we know how to.”

All that might also have something to do with opening against a

San Jose State team coming off a 2-10 season. The Tide started the

past two years against Clemson and Virginia Tech in nationally

televised, much hyped games.

The big-game trappings will come in Game 2 this time, when

Alabama hosts No. 19 Penn State.

”We play Penn State as the heavyweight, it just happens to fall

on a day a week later in the season,” Saban said. ”I’ve always

said in the past that when you open with a team that the players

have a tremendous amount of respect for because of their national

reputation, you get a little better attention to detail in the

entire offseason, in spring practice and in fall camp because they

are geared up for that game.

”I think in this case our players definitely respect the team

that we’re playing, they’re showing good due-diligence in their

preparation for the game.”

The presumably easier opener will give a young defense some

much-needed seasoning.

The Tide has nine new defensive starters, including three

sophomores. The depth chart released Monday also has junior college

transfer DeQuan Menzie at right cornerback some five months after

he tore his Achilles’ tendon.

Starting linebacker Chavis Williams is a senior but has played

almost exclusively on special teams his first three seasons. The

defense could be even more youthful if end Marcell Dareus isn’t

cleared to play by the NCAA.

Dareus is listed as a first teamer but is under scrutiny for a

trip to Miami. Saban said he had nothing new to report on Dareus.

Sophomore Undra Billingsley is his backup.

The coach said a game’s the best way to test young players, not

preseason practices.

”That’s ultimately what you have to learn about them: How are

they going to compete on game day?” he said. ”Some guys play

better when the game comes and some guys who practice very well

don’t complete nearly as well when the game comes. I don’t think

you can figure that out until the game comes.

”If hot peppers give you a bellyache, you can’t figure it out

until you eat hot peppers.”

Finally, a spicy comment from Saban.