Despite finishing his first regular season at Alabama on a four-game losing streak, Nick Saban started his second one facing heavy expectations even with the SEC as loaded as ever.
After one game, the bar has been raised even higher.
Coming off a blowout victory over a top 10 opponent, the No. 13 Crimson Tide begin their home slate Saturday night with a non-conference game against Tulane.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Alabama -30 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 84% of bets for this game have been placed on Alabama -30 (View College Football bet percentages).
Alabama brought in Saban prior to the 2007 season to turn around one of the nation's highest-profile programs, one that had finished with a winning record just once in its previous four years.
Saban's squad ended the season above .500 after an Independence Bowl victory over Colorado, but excitement over his first year on the job was tempered by a four-game losing streak to end the regular season, including a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
The Tide were expected to be better in 2008, but didn't figure to contend for the SEC title with top 10 teams Georgia, Florida, LSU and Auburn still reigning as the heavyweights of the nation's most highly regarded conference.
Alabama, though, went out and recorded perhaps the most eye-opening victory in college football's opening weekend. The Crimson Tide were underdogs to ninth-ranked Clemson at the Georgia Dome on Saturday, but dismantled the Tigers 34-10. Alabama held Clemson's powerful rushing attack to zero net yards, while gaining 239 yards on the ground itself.
"I think the season started on the right note," said quarterback John Parker Wilson, who went 22-for-30 with three touchdowns, one rushing. "We just got something going, we have to continue it. We played well, but we can play better."
The victory vaulted the Tide 11 spots up the AP Top 25, though Saban didn't want to revel in the win very long.
"You enjoy it, you sing the fight song in the locker room and before you get in the shower you start to think about how you are going to match the (pass) patterns or attack the other team," he said.
"I think after 24 hours you need to start forgetting about that game, stop reading the paper and start focusing on the next challenge that you have."
There shouldn't be much of a challenge from Tulane, which is playing its first game of the season and isn't expected to contend in Conference USA. The Green Wave (4-8) have had bigger problems than preparation for Alabama, however, with Hurricane Gustav threatening New Orleans early this week.
Tulane left Louisiana on Saturday, though, traveling to Birmingham, where they'll stay before making the hour trek to Tuscaloosa. It's the second time in four years the Green Wave have had to deal with such a distraction at the start of football season. In 2005, they played 11 games in 11 cities - none in New Orleans - after Hurricane Katrina devastated southern Louisiana.
"Guys don't have the problems we had last time," offensive tackle Troy Kropog said. "Nobody is overly worried. Last time we had to spend a few days in a gym sleeping on the floor with no power with 90-something-degree Mississippi heat."
What Tulane will have to worry about is containing Alabama's passing attack, which looked good against Clemson despite Wilson being without his top three receivers from a year ago.
The Green Wave had the nation's 111th-ranked pass defense in 2007, and will have to deal with star freshman Julio Jones, who scored a touchdown in his collegiate debut while making four receptions.
Senior tight end Nick Walker, who only caught 35 passes in his first three seasons, had seven catches for 67 yards and a score against Clemson.
One concern for Alabama is the health of junior left tackle Andre Smith, the 2007 Jacobs Trophy winner as the SEC's most outstanding blocker. He sprained his right knee against Clemson, and is considered "day-to-day," according to Saban.
Smith has started all 27 games in his career with the Crimson Tide.
Tulane's offense will be moving on without Matt Forte, who was the nation's second-leading rusher with 2,127 yards last season. Junior Andre Anderson will start at tailback, but he had only 14 carries for 91 yards last year behind Forte.
This is the 41st meeting between Tulane and Alabama, and the first since 1994. The Crimson Tide lead the series 26-11-3.
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