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Reloading Alabama welcomes doubts while chasing Tide’s own goals

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Right tackle JC Latham knows only too well that Bryce Young and Will Anderson are in the NFL now, along with eight other players that were with Alabama last year. Yet Crimson Tide tradition remains. So does coach Nick Saban, whose roster is always so stocked he never even appears to reload.

So go ahead. Make back-to-back national champ Georgia the preseason favorite to win the Southeastern Conference.

Nothing could make Alabama happier — even if that snaps the Tide’s streak dating back to 2015.

“Disrespectful,” Latham said Wednesday at SEC media days. “I don’t appreciate that at all. Understanding that I know this group, we’re going to win it all. We’re going to (the) national championship, undefeated.”

Saban, fresh off a delayed anniversary tour of Italy, isn’t ready to go that far yet.

The man with six of Alabama’s national championships knows Latham is one of five starters back on offense. Saban still has to find a starting quarterback after ending spring practice without a clear successor to Young, the NFL’s top overall draft pick.

Saban added a third contender through the transfer portal, with former Notre Dame starter Tyler Buchner joining Jalen Milroe and former five-star recruit Ty Simpson in the starting QB competition.

Buchner opened 2022 as a starter, only to miss most of the regular season after hurting his shoulder in a Week 2 game against Marshall. He returned to lead the Fighting Irish to a bowl win over South Carolina. Milroe started the Texas A&M game with Young injured last year. Simpson played sparingly in four games.

Saban is in no hurry to pick a starter before hosting Middle Tennessee in the season opener on Sept. 2. He compared the process to waiting for his grandmother’s cake to come out of the oven.

“She said, ‘If I don’t let it go through and take it out of the oven too soon, it will turn to mush and it won’t be a really good cake,’” Saban said. “So I think we have to sort of let this develop and make sure we let the cake bake until somebody separates themselves and all the players are working hard.”

Alabama has been the SEC’s projected champion at media days all but twice since 2010.

LSU nabbed that in 2012, only to tie for second in the West as Alabama won the SEC title. In 2015, Auburn finished seventh in the West after being predicted as the league champ. That year’s winner? The Crimson Tide.

After being picked the preseason champ a year ago, Alabama tied for first in the West and missed a berth in the league championship for only the fourth time since 2012. Alabama has seven SEC championships in that span, making Atlanta a regular stepping stone to playing for another national title.

“I’m not here to create expectations for our team,” Saban said. “Lots of people will do that. But expectations in some way are a premeditated way to create disappointment.”

Or, as Saban likes to call it, rat poison.

But this is July, and SEC media days allow even Alabama players to revel in the tradition they want to continue.

Linebacker Dallas Turner didn’t watch Georgia’s rout of TCU for the national championship last January. He is among six starters returning on a defense that lost Anderson along with five other starters to the NFL and appreciates that the Tide presumably pick up where they left off no matter who departed.

“We just show the new guys how it is supposed to be at the University of Alabama, the type of football we play, the type of attitude we have day in and day out,” Turner said.

Saban also has two new coordinators in Tommy Rees and Kevin Steele. Steele is back again running the defense. Rees, 31, has the bigger challenge, also having to replace running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who went 12th overall to Detroit in the draft.

Latham is among three offensive linemen returning, plus two wide receivers, for a unit that averaged 41.1 points a game last season with Young under center. Lathan said everyone else is stepping up, knowing Young is gone.

“We understand our goal is to win it all,” he said.

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