The ticket scalper with the “I need tickets” sign looked to snatch up tickets from students for $400 a pop. Across the parking lot covered in news vans, 85 of the more celebrated Alabama students settled into the football complex for their most scrutinized work week in recent memory.
With No. 1 LSU coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday, the second-ranked Crimson Tide opened its official preparations under the glare of the media spotlight. There were 14 television cameras in the Alabama media room and reporters traveling from as far as New York to join the hype machine for the first regular season meeting between top two teams in SEC history.
None of that matters much to Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower, though he said he’s heard a constant stream of chatter since beating Tennessee two Saturdays ago.
“I honestly don’t really care who we’re playing,” he said. “It don’t matter at all. I don’t care if we’re playing Air Force, I don’t care if we’re playing LSU, I don’t care if we’re playing Auburn. Because it doesn’t matter. We’re going to come in during the week, we’re gonna do what we gotta do.”
He later said playing in a game of such significance was “exciting,” but that alone doesn’t fuel practice intensity.
Like it or not, the attention isn’t going anywhere.
The ESPN crew will soon erect its GameDay set outside Bryant-Denny Stadium as more potential distractions arrive and the spotlight burns brighter.
Alabama coach Nick Saban drew a few laughs when discussing how he’s handling the team’s focus this week.
“Well you can give them all the instruction that you’d like, but just like we all have children that we give instruction to when they go out on a date,” Saban said.
“You’re never really sure if you’re going to do it or not. I’m sure that there are some players on our team who pay very little attention, and there are other players who could get caught up in that type of thing.”
At LSU, Tiger coach Les Miles said he’s wary of the attention coming from “the perimeter” for a game like Saturday’s.
“It is my job to eliminate any of that,” he said. “I would like to minimize the media requirement on my players. I will understand the responsibility on me in that way.”
Alabama’s star running back isn’t backing away from the talk, but he said it’s not affecting him.
Despite having another busy schedule of national television and radio interviews all week, Trent Richardson said he’s not paying much attention to what’s said outside of the program.
He also said “it’s a regular game,” but there’s some extra enticing about LSU since he was injured scoring a first-quarter touchdown in last season’s loss to the Tigers. He tore an abdominal muscle and got a slightly torn MCL (knee) a year ago in Baton Rouge.
“This game means a lot to me because I didn’t get to play in it last year except for about one quarter,” he said. “So I really can’t wait to showcase what a healthy Trent can do in this game.”
Ultimately, Saban said the team’s focus needs to focus on practice and game plan installation before considering the stakes it’ll face Saturday night.
“There’s a fine line in there and that’s been our message to our team and it will continue to be,” he said.
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star. Follow him on Twitter @UARollTide_Star