Football Time Drawing Near

Alabama football is always in the national eye, and that is particularly true this year as Nick Saban begins his reign as head coach of the Crimson Tide. There is anticipation on the part of the Bama faithful, keen interest by the national media, and, it seems, trepidation in the enemy camps.

There is never a year when the start of football season is not an exciting time around The University of Alabama. That time is fast approaching as the Crimson Tide opens the 2007 campaign and the Nick Saban Era Saturday evening.

Alabama completed fall camp in the past week, installation of all schemes and assignments to be used by the Crimson Tide. That process continues to some extent, but now the focus turns to opponents. Game preparation has begun.

With thunderstorms looming and lightning flashing in Tuscaloosa on Saturday afternoon, the Tide football team moved its practice indoors to the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility for the first time in 2007 fall camp. The Tide went through its two-plus hour workout on the synthetic turf of the indoor field for the first time in the preseason.

That first game would seem to be a lightweight, Western Carolina, which is coming off a 2-9 season in 2006. But it is not the nature of a good football coach to think that his team can just trot out on game day and expect to win. That attitude results in losses to the likes of Northern Illinois. Saban will have Alabama as ready for Catamounts as he would for, say, Tigers.

Kickoff Saturday at sold-out Bryant-Denny Stadium is just after 6 p.m. CDT Saturday. The only television coverage is on a pay-per-view basis. Information from The University is for those who would like to have the telecast to contact cable networks or satellite providers for updated purchase and viewing information.

Alabama players will have an off-day Sunday, then resume preparation Monday.

In terms of both personnel and schemes it will only be surprising if there are not some unexpected revelations Saturday. Saban, his assistant coaches, and his players keep a tight lid on the specifics of practice.

Championship Alabama teams have frequently had a signature of being great defensive squads. Things like the goalline stand against Penn State to win the 1978 national title or the overall shutdown of Heisman Trophy winner Gino Toretta and his Miami Hurricanes to take the crown in 1992 are memorable.

But Alabama has a history of great offense, too. This year's team may be one that relies on offense for success. The offense has much more experience and has explosive potential. If the offense can control the ball for long periods of time (which the team of Mike Shula was able to do last year) and get the ball in the end zone at the ends of those long drives (which the 2006 Crimson Tide did not do well enough), that could make up for what could be defensive deficiencies.

It is rare for a good team to have a poor kicking game. Based on past results, Bama's 2007 special teams could be a mixed bag.

This is a time when final predictions are being made about all teams. It's a fool's errand in many cases (though not hard to predict the likes of Southern Cal and LSU should do well based on being well-stocked with quality players). Alabama seems to match up well with most opponents. The key will be in winning games the Tide should win, and winning most or all of the toss-up games.

A good start in the season-opener against Western Carolina is essential.

Alabama's football team has been working in extraordinary heat, temperatures over 100 more days than not, and it is a tribute to the players, coaches and medical staff that there have been minimal heat-related problems. Forecasting the weather is as hazardous as predicting football games, but the long-range outlook for Tuscaloosa is for some break in the heat, a high in the upper 80s on game day. The University reminds fans planning on attending Crimson Tide games in Tuscaloosa to continue to log on to to receive updated information on game day parking and travel information.

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