TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The score had barely gone final in Bryant-Denny Stadium when the A-word came up in postgame interviews.
No, Alabama players didn’t need the full 24 hours to get past Thursday’s 63-7 pounding of Georgia State before the questions about Auburn came flying their direction.
But there are bigger issues outside of rivalry chatter heading into this one. From Alabama’s perspective, that involves the health and availability of two major offensive contributors. At least as of Thursday night, Nick Saban was hopeful running back Trent Richardson and starting right guard Barrett Jones would be available by 1:30 p.m. Friday when the No. 2 Tigers put their national title hopes on the line in the Iron Bowl.
For Richardson, who is still recovering from a minor knee injury suffered at LSU two weeks ago, Saban said he’s doing well an “probably could have played today.” Richardson was suited up but didn’t see action for a second straight game against Georgia State.
Jones, a victim of a sprained ankle last Saturday against Mississippi State, was in a sweat suit on the sidelines Thursday.
“We think he’ll be able to play,” Saban said of Jones. “But probably, we’ll have a better idea of that come Sunday just to see what kind of progress he’s making. But the initial prognosis is that he would be able to come back this week and play. I don’t think there is any doubt about Trent unless he has a setback some time during practice.”
The topic of investigations surrounding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton also came up with Saban and his players.
Tide quarterback Greg McElroy said it doesn’t really matter who lines up behind the center for the Tigers on Friday. It’s the rivalry that makes the game what it is.
“If (Newton) plays, if he doesn’t play, we’d love to have him out there,” McElroy said. “We’re just going to go out there and play Auburn the Auburn Tigers, not the Cam Newtons.”
Newton’s presence made an early visit to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Thursday night. Photos quickly circulated on the internet Friday of his No. 2 Auburn jersey taped to the chest of the Bear Bryant statue that stands in front of the stadium that carries his name.
As if the rivalry needed any extra fuel.
Saban also faced a question dealing with Newton’s availability for the Iron Bowl.
“Cam Newton is a great player and I think if you’re a great competitor, you like to compete against great players,” Saban said. “I’ve said it on numerous occasions that it would be bad for college football that such a great player who has an opportunity to do some significant things individually and collectively for his team not to be able to play.
“But at the same time, I don’t know much about the situation and I don’t spend much time on the situations but I think we all have the responsibility and obligation to do things the right way institutionally and individually.”
The routine changes a little bit again for Alabama who’ll play its second straight weekday game for the first time in ages. Players got Friday off and will have meetings Saturday before picking up with a semi-normal game week just shifted up a day.
The normal Monday routine will take place Sunday with a noon news conference and afternoon practice. Monday will be like a typical Tuesday and so on.
Just a year ago, Alabama was the undefeated team with the Heisman Trophy favorite heading on the road for the Iron Bowl. Now, the roles are reversed, but McElroy said the Tide isn’t looking at itself as a spoiler Friday.
“It’s not to spoil their season, it’s finishing our season on a high note,” McElroy said. “That’s what we’re all looking forward to. We’ve had some ups and downs in our road this year, without a doubt. But beating those guys, I think, would probably put the icing on the cake.”