It has been almost eight months since Alabama defeated Clemson in Glendale, Ariz., in the College Football National Championship Game. Since then there have been intervals to sate the college football appetite of fans – Signing Day in February, Spring practice in March and April, Southeastern Conference Media Days in July.
And then a semblance of football for real began with fall camp at the beginning of August.
As we move into September, the August practice days seem almost a tease, the expectation that football was upon us, only for the wait until the super weekend of college football openers – and particularly Alabama vs. Southern Cal – to always be out of reach.
Those 29 practice dates are now down to two, a Thursday polish in Tuscaloosa, a walk-through Friday, and then a flight to Dallas where the Crimson Tide and Trojans will meet in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Saturday night. ABC will televise the game, which begins at 7 p.m. CDT.
But is too long for college football fans too long for college football teams?
Alabama Coach Nick Saban sees both sides. “Twenty-nine practices, that’s a lot of practices,” he said Wednesday. “If you said, ‘Okay, we practice four times a week for a regular preparation of a game, that means we practiced more for this game than the next seven games.
“I think it’s very adequate.”
He also pointed out that “school starts a little earlier now,” and so the practice dates are spread out, making for a longer time period. Additionally, not all of the practice time has been spent on preparing for Southern Cal. Much of the work was strictly on fundamentals and some was spent working on wrinkles Bama will face against other opponents in 2016.
In this respect, though, college football fans and college football players (and probably football coaches) have a similar outlook.
Saban said, “I'm sure the guys have had their fill of practice and practicing against each other.
“We got a little extra time to prepare for a game like this, so I think it gets to be old hat, especially for the more veteran players but it's a great opportunity for the younger players to understand what they have to do to have the kind of preparation they need to be able to go out and play well in the game. I think the players are excited. I know we're excited to find out where our team is and what we need to do to continue to improve and get better. The most important thing now is for the players to be able to stay focused on what they need to do to execute the play well. Mental clutter, outside expectations, outside whatever, keep the main thing the main thing, which is win your box with good execution.
And, he said, “The reason that you practice is to play a game. Now is the time to play and we're looking forward to seeing where we are.”
Saban brought up another time issue, the time a player must focus on doing his job on each play of a game.
“You’re talking about six seconds,” he said of each football play.
Saban wants Alabama players focused for that six seconds on doing what it takes to win the play. And, “If you don’t win it the last time, win it the next time.”
The coach said, “Everybody wants to make plays, everybody talks about making plays. Really, you make plays by executing, following the process of what you have to do.
“If you're a receiver, running the route correctly at the right depth. If you're an offensive linemen, take the right steps and block the right guy. If you're a defensive back, use the right technique to play the coverage we're in. If you're a quarterback, throw the ball to the right guy based on what the defense is playing.
“It's not about making plays, it's about execution and the execution and the following the process of what it takes to play well, that'll make plays for you. That's the most important thing we need to get our players to do between now and then. We'll have another shorter practice tomorrow to try to polish up some of those things and do the best we can to get as many players as possible to ready to try to play winning football.”