TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Smiling wider than usual at his Wednesday news conference, Nick Saban said he anticipated the question.
The 2011 schedule released earlier in the afternoon is topped off by a Week 1 visit from a school Saban knows a little about. The Sept. 3 visit from Kent State will give the Alabama coach an opportunity to reconnect with the school where he played football and got his first assistant coaching job.
But no, he had nothing to do with the arranging the meeting.
“The Mid-American Conference is really good football conference, I think,” Saban said. “There’s been a lot of good players and a lot of good coaches come out of that league for a long, long time. They have their own tradition. I coached in that league. I played in that league, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kent State and the Mid-American Conference. It’s a good opportunity for their players and it will certainly be a good opportunity and a challenge for us.”
Never miss a local story.
The other non-conference opponents include Penn State (on the road Sept. 10), North Texas (Sept. 17) and FCS Georgia Southern (Nov. 19) the week before traveling to Auburn for the Iron Bowl.
Alabama’s last meeting with a MAC school didn’t end well for the Tide as Northern Illinois beat the Tide 19-16 in 2003 in Mike Shula’s first season as head coach.
Adding Kent State to the schedule was not easy, Saban said, because a previously scheduled opponent backed out of a contract.
“These old contracts that people have that I probably shouldn’t be commenting on people are willing to give them more, so they take more.”
How much faster?
There’s no debating the fact that running back Trent Richardson is faster than starting center William Vlachos.
But how is the gap quantified? Richardson gave it a shot.
“If we were running 100 yards, he’d have (to start) on the 80,” a laughing Richardson said.
Vlachos did his best to keep up with the sophomore back on the 85-yard screen pass that went for a touchdown. The center got down field and briefly matched strides with Richardson before he turned on the burners and left the 289-pounder in his vapors.
“I didn’t notice at first, but when we went back and watched the video, he was trying to run stride for stride with me,” Richardson said. “ He gave me even more trouble. He said he could beat me. The whole offensive line gave me trouble.”
Vlachos, an interview room regular, did not make it in this week to respond or to accept Richardson’s challenge and generous head start.
Watkins’ 2-for-1 block still buzzes
Alex Watkins said he doesn’t watch much ESPN so he didn’t see his Saturday block of two Ole Miss defenders made SportsCenter’s top 10 plays.
Still, he’s heard plenty about his special teams hustle play that was a crowd favorite in Bryant-Denny Stadium. His flying shoulder into the two Rebel defenders cleared a path for Marquis Maze’s 37-yard punt return and turned the senior backup linebacker into an instant celebrity.
“I didn’t know I took out two people,” Watkins said. “I knew I was aiming for No. 9. It was like bowling. I got a split. Boom. Got it.”
Hightower holding up well
After playing seven games on his reconstructed knee, Tide linebacker Dont’a Hightower said he is holding up well.
But the changing seasons adds difficulty to the equation.
“It’s kind of getting colder so it’s always going to bug me, but I will get with (head trainer Jeff Allen) and throughout classes, I try to keep heat or ice and take Tylenol to try to keep it safe and under wraps,” Hightower said.
Sept. 3 KENT STATE
Sept. 10 at Penn State
Sept. 17 NORTH TEXAS
Sept. 24 ARKANSAS*
Oct. 1 at Florida*
Oct. 8 VANDERBILT*
Oct. 15 at Ole Miss
Oct. 22 TENNESSEE*
Oct. 29 Open
Nov. 5 LSU*
Nov. 12 at Mississippi State *
Nov. 19 GEORGIA SOUTHERN
Nov. 26 at Auburn*
* SEC game
Home game in CAPS