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Nick Saban mood brightens as football season seems possible | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

Nick Saban was smiling.

The image of the sour, dour Alabama football coach has been overplayed over time. On Saturday morning, though, he was clearly comfortable, resplendent in a blue-green golf shirt sporting the logo of the Florida country club where he is a member and chatting affably with ESPN’s "College GameDay" crew, with Alabama alumnus Rece Davis doing most of the questioning. 

That’s because there are few things in life that make Saban happier than the coming of football and each small step seems to bringing that goal closer for Southeastern Conference schools. “Return to normalcy” is incorrect for 2020. There is nothing normal about it, nor will there be. Saturday’s early games around the country showed that with some wobbly play. That doesn’t apply to Billy Napier’s Louisiana team. The former Alabama assistant’s Ragin’ Cajuns were better than Iowa State despite the Cyclones’ lack of fundamentals  

Saban told the "GameDay" crew that he doesn’t expect Alabama to struggle with the basics if the season opens at Missouri on Sept. 26.

”The technical football aspects of blocking and tackling have been relatively the same,” Saban said. “But whether it’s wearing masks, keeping guys separated, when they’re not in drills, the protocols that we have to go through, the testing, what we do in meetings in terms of social distancing and wearing masks, All those protocols, the things that have happened off the field have made (practice) a little different. But what happens on the field has not been really that much affected by the technical aspects.”

There are still hurdles to clear before the season starts for Alabama. For all of Saturday’s feel-good moments across the country, there was a feel-worried moment to match. There were the Sun Belt Conference’s big moments but there were also postponements in the ACC where a Sept. 19 game between Virginia and Virginia Tech was pushed back because Blacksburg is too much of a COVID-19 hot spot. There was the continued flippy-floppy news out of the Big Ten, which seems to be backpedaling as hard as a cornerback who runs a 5.1 in the 40-yard dash. That’s not a shot at players or fans in that league, many of whom are reacting with the same bewilderment that players and fans at Alabama would under the same circumstances. It’s just to say that the Big Ten has handled itself so poorly from a league-office standpoint over the last 30 days that even a hasty retreat will hardly seem sincere. That will, however, do nothing to dial the arrogance of the Big Ten officers and administrators down from 11 to, let’s say, 10.5 on a scale of 10. 

There is no way of knowing what conditions on the ground will be in Columbia, Missouri, in two weeks. The same is true for Alabama. Tuscaloosa remains a COVID-19 hotspot, although the football team seems to have been fairly well insulated and it would be surprising (though not impossible) for the Crimson Tide to have the kind of team-wide outbreak that hit both Georgia Southern (33 players out) and Memphis (30-plus sidelined) over the past week. Saban seems content to roll with it. 

“It's been a little different “ Saban admitted. “A lot of uncertainty for players. Social issues. NFL issues relative to players opting out. There's been a lot of distractions but I've been really pleased with how our players have adjusted to the flow.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt