"It's great to be back in the SEC," Saban said. "There's been a tremendous amount of success in this league throughout the years. In a lot of ways, the strength of this league may be the best it's ever been, so I don't see a lot of differences from when I was at LSU."
Alabama jumped out to a quick start two seasons ago under Mike Shula's leadership. A 31-3 home win over the Gators propelled the Crimson Tide back into the spotlight that the program is so used to being in. They were on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ranked in the top-five nationally and flying high. But by the end of the season, Alabama was sliding from their early season success, and the slide continued through last season as well.
It was time for a change, so enter Saban. Although expectations are high, he is a realist.
"It wouldn't be much fun to coach at a place where they don't expect to win," Saban said. "You can be optimistic, which is a good thing. You can be pessimistic, which can be a bad thing. But I think the most important thing is to be a realist about what you can do, what you want to do and where you think you can be. Expectations can only set you up for disappointment."
The word "realist" was a common theme from the Tide on Thursday.
"It's a process," Alabama center Antoine Caldwell said. "He's not going to just show up and then boom, we're 13-0. We have to be realists about it and we know it's going to take time. We're going to take it week-by-week."
Saban admits he doesn't know as much about his team as he would like, but that's what two-a-days in the fall are for.
"You may know in some cases a lot more about our team than we know," Saban said. "We did have a good summer program and a spring practice where we put in our basic offense and defense and special teams, but this fall camp is going to tell us a lot about our team. What kind of team chemistry will we have? This team's chemistry will probably develop and progress through camp and into the season and how that develops will play a big part in how we play as a team."
The most notable change Saban has brought to Tuscaloosa is a new attitude. According to Caldwell, it's not necessarily tougher, but definitely more regimented.
"He's brought intensity to the program," Caldwell said. "He's brought discipline to the program. Everything he's brought to the program has been everything we've needed. Coach Saban brings a different mentality to the table. He's established. He's a winner. You don't want that to have an impact but it does. He's intense and there's no opportunity on this team to be lazy and that's what this football team needed."
Although a lot of attention may be put on the Nov. 3 matchup with Saban's former team, LSU, but for Tide fans, there's only one game their focused on and that's the Iron Bowl. But no predictions from Caldwell.
"We're going to work hard, work hard," he said. "That's all I'll say."
The Commodores have one of the best offenses in the SEC behind the arm of third team All-SEC selection Chris Nickson and first team All-SEC selection Earl Bennett. But do they have enough to compete in a very tough SEC East?
"We're much more talented than we have been early in my career at Vanderbilt," head coach Bobby Johnson said. "We have 17,18 starters returning. We've won some pretty big games in the last couple of years. I think our guys feel like they can compete in this league."
"Our chances are very high this season," Bennett said. "We have a lot of returning starters and guys who have been working extremely hard this offseason."
In addition to the talent on offense, Vandy has some talented players returning on defense as well, mainly first team All-SEC selection linebacker Jonathan Goff.
"The mindset of this program has changed, and I just believe that Coach Johnson and his staff have done a great job with recruiting and changing the mindset of the team," Goff said.
Vanderbilt has had some big wins in recent years, including a win at Georgia last season and a win against Tennessee two seasons ago. But they've never been able to knock off at least two of the big dogs in the same year.
"We were able to hang in there and make the plays against Georgia to get the win," Goff said. "That was a big win for us to get over that hump. We had a lot of close games in previous seasons that we did not make the necessary plays to win."
"We've had some quality wins the last couple of years," Johnson said. "We feel like we're making progress. May not be fast to all of you, but we're working as hard as we can."