SEC Media Days wrapped up in Hoover on Thursday but the talking point that carried the week, while it receded a bit, didn’t exactly go away.
There was a war of words, one not necessarily sparked by either of the teams but certainly waged in the media by analysts who detected subtexts of “disrespect” in every quote. That, in turn, simply added more fuel to the inferno about the 2019 game between Alabama and the foe from the ACC.
The talk, of course, was about Clemson.
As for the actual ACC opponent Alabama will play in its season opener six weeks from now, the Duke Blue Devils?
Silence on the buzz-meter. Not a peep. Nothing that would disturb the whirring of the cicadas in the Tuscaloosa evening.
Nick Saban did field one question about Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe and was effusive in his praise.
“I don’t know of anybody in the country that’s done a better job with the program than he has at Duke,” Saban said his Wednesday appearance. “Not only in terms of taking (Duke’s) program from being fairly unsuccessful to very successful now, but also, the way he goes about it — the honesty, integrity, you know, doing things the way (they) are supposed to be done … in terms of emphasizing personal development and academic support and player development.
“I just think he’s one of the best around.”
A couple of quick points to follow that up:
First, all the talk about Clemson in a hypothetical College Football Playoff matchup and the pin-drop silence about Duke is exactly the reason why Saban answered questions in Hoover the way he did. Nothing is more antithetical to his way of thinking than talking about the end of the journey rather than the beginning. So Saban talks in terms relevant to his own team’s areas of improvement — better preparation, better focus, better chemistry — because that is how you approach the next game. And his job is to beat the next opponent, not discuss how great the last opponent was.
Second, while the schedule-outrage hot takes couldn’t out-scream the “insufficient praise” hot takes, remember this: Alabama was not presented with a list of 100 possible opponents and chose Duke first and foremost. Alabama has agreed to open the season in Atlanta, just as it did in 2017 (Florida State) and will in 2021 (Miami). The list of opponents willing to come to the Mercedes Dome was not infinite. The list wasn’t even long. And the matchup certainly didn’t happen because Alabama vetoed someone else.
Duke isn’t picked to win the ACC Coastal Division. (More frequently, it’s been picked to finish seventh.) The Blue Devils have a flashy all-purpose back in Deon Jones and a fifth-year quarterback, Quenton Harris, who played behind NFL first-rounder Daniel Jones last season. They respect Alabama — but they also respect themselves.
“I think that’s been our mindset the entire time,” Harris said at the ACC Kickoff. “We’ve known about this game for awhile. We know the history behind them and the kind of success that they’ve had. But we don’t necessarily put them on a pedestal, I would say. Obviously they’re just another team.”
If any Alabama fans want to wail about “disrespect,” that quote— pulled from a broader context of praise— could be used on a bulletin board. But the Crimson Tide’s best bet is to concentrate on the areas where it can improve, which is what Nick Saban has been saying all along.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt