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Nick Saban says Alabama’s success doesn’t come easy

Alabamcoach Nick Saban visits with fans way out signing numerous autographs during Southeastern Conference football medidays Hoover Ala. Thursday July

Alabama coach Nick Saban visits with fans on the way out, signing numerous autographs, during the Southeastern Conference football media days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday July 18, 2013. (AP Photo/, Vasha Hunt) MAGS OUT

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Updated: July 18, 2013 11:34PM

HOOVER, Ala. — The Nicktator stood before a ballroom overflowing with members of the college football media — many of them real, live so-called experts — and shook his head in disapproval.

Normally, this would’ve been a terrifying moment. But the mood was light enough to take the edge off the voice of perhaps the most powerful coach in sports.

“I’d like to make a note here,” Alabama’s Nick Saban began, “that in the last 21 seasons, you as the media have only picked the right team four times to win the [Southeastern Conference]. Now, if I was 4-17 as a coach, I would be back in West Virginia pumping gas at my daddy’s gas station.”

It was both good for a laugh and a good point. It doesn’t take an expert to see the SEC as — far and away — the best football conference in the country, but predicting which team will shine brightest isn’t as simple as it seems.

Alabama has won the national championship in three of the last four seasons and clearly exists on its own plane, but Auburn, LSU and Florida also have won it all during the league’s seven-year stranglehold on the sport. In 2011, the Tide rolled to glory, despite not even winning the SEC West. A year before that, Cam Newton embarrassed Saban’s vaunted defense before capping a 14-0 campaign that nearly broke this bitterly divided, college football-crazed state in half.

Even last season, when Alabama gave Notre Dame a beatdown for the ages in the BCS title game, there was a two-yard escape against Georgia in the SEC title game and, three weeks before that, a truly shocking loss to upstart Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa.

“There are great teams throughout this league,” Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith said on the last day of this annual gathering of SEC coaches, star players and media. “You can’t be Nostradamuses and try to predict the future. You have to see what happens.”

Alas, how easy it is to click on Alabama first before submitting one’s predicted order of finish. Of the 243 media members who participated in preseason voting, 182 picked the Tide to win the SEC. Presumably, an equal number — or darned close — would agree that’s essentially the same as picking the Tide to make it four national titles in five years.

The SEC West voting was even more eye-opening. For all the Aggies accomplished in their first season in the conference — 11 victories, a Heisman Trophy for quarterback Johnny Manziel — they’ve fooled next to no one into thinking they can take down the Tide in the standings.

How many votes for Alabama to win the West? Only 225. For second-place A&M? Um, 11.

Saban’s team also placed seven offensive or defensive players on the preseason All-SEC team. No other school had more than two.

Still, the coach doesn’t want anyone to think this is easy.

“It’s a challenge each year to reinvent your team,” he said.

It’s a challenge only the coach of Alabama could truly understand. No other program in the country can honestly pretend to be doing the national title-or-bust thing year after year. Nowhere other than 50 miles down the road in Tuscaloosa are the stakes nearly so high.

“Everyone goes through their era in college football,” said AJ McCarron, the starting quarterback on the last two title teams. “Miami was good for years, then Florida State, then Nebraska. Everyone has their time, and then it falls off.

“Our thing is, why does it have to leave?”

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