The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time:
No. 14 Alabama
It's heartening to know Nick Saban understands our jobs and is cool with the fact pundits don't always have to drink the Bear Bryant juice and get on Alabama board every time someone with a snoot full shouts "Roll Tide!"
"You are the conduit to the public for all the players and all of our programs," Saban told an assemblage of microphone holders and pen pushers at this summer's Southeastern Conference media days. ". . . We thank you for that."
You are very welcome.
Rankman didn't bite on Alabama last year, not once. Not when the Crimson Tide got to 4-0, 6-0 or 8-0.
The week Alabama improved to 9-0 and zoomed to No. 1 in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches' polls, the Crimson Tide stayed put at No. 4 in The Times' weekly rankings.
Some in Tuscaloosa objected, with one e-mailer offering to pick Rankman up in a limo and "show him around town."
This pollster stuck to the guns in his holster.
We had questions that no one seemed willing to answer: How did the Crimson Tide ultimately warrant jumping 11 spots in the coaches' poll after an opening win over Clemson, which ended up running its coach out of town and finishing 7-6? Where was the poll adjustment?
What law said we had to anoint Alabama after a 20-6 win over Tulane or 17-14 sweat job against Kentucky?
Rankman, to be perfectly fair, eventually positioned Alabama to where the Crimson Tide would get to No. 1 or No. 2 if they beat Florida in the SEC title game.
Alabama didn't, and then got smoked by Utah in the Sugar Bowl -- rankings case closed.
Rankman holds the same table reservation this year, as Alabama seems to be in everyone else's top 10. We'll see. If Saban's team can beat Virginia Tech at Atlanta in the Sept. 5 opener, the next four games are wins against Florida International, North Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky.
The difference this year is Alabama has lost its starting quarterback and three offensive linemen, including All-American left tackle Andre Smith.
So how does that make Alabama No. 5 in the preseason USA Today coaches' poll?
Even Saban isn't sure.
"It's very difficult to predict what a bunch of adolescents are going to do," he said.
Alabama will stake its season on nine returning starters of the nation's No. 3 defense, led by big-as-a-house tackle Terrence Cody and cornerback Javier Arenas.
"They can't be satisfied," Saban said.
Saban is going to win a national championship at Alabama -- it's the reason he's earning 10 times more money than the president of the United States.
Alabama was way ahead of schedule last year, and the schedule this season could shake out the same.
But one thing hasn't changed: Florida is returning all 11 defensive starters off last year's national title team and that guy Tim Tebow at quarterback.
If it's Alabama versus Florida again for the SEC title, which way would you roll?
The countdown so far: 25. UCLA; 24. Nevada; 23. Notre Dame; 22. Oregon State; 21. Florida State; 20. Nebraska; 19. North Carolina; 18. Utah; 17. Georgia Tech; 16. California; 15. Virginia Tech; 14. Alabama.