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SEC's heavyweights hold court

HOOVER, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban wasn't surprised that the Crimson Tide were picked to win another SEC championship by the media who attended SEC media days on Thursday.

After all, Alabama has won back-to-back BCS National Championships (and three of the past four) and brings back quarterback A.J. McCarron, tailback T.J. Yeldon and what might be the country's best offensive line this coming season.

Saban just isn't sure the preseason predictions carry much weight.

"It seems almost a little bit crazy to try to predict what's going to happen in the season," Saban said. "I'd also like to make a note here that in the last 21 seasons, you, as the media, have only picked the right team four times to win the SEC. Now, if I were 4-17 as a coach, I would be back in West Virginia pumping my gas at my daddy's gas station."

That's why Saban isn't sure LSU coach Les Miles' argument that Alabama has an easier road to the SEC championship game because of its conference schedule is valid, either.

On the final day of SEC media days, Miles sounded like a Southern preacher sharing his thoughts on the league's permanent crossover opponents.

Under the SEC's current 6-1-1 scheduling format, the Tigers play Florida every season, along with another rotating opponent from the SEC East (Georgia this coming season) and the six other SEC West teams. Alabama plays Tennessee each season, along with a rotating SEC East opponent (Kentucky in 2013).

"It's pretty easy to see," Miles said. "Some teams have advantages. It's a responsibility that's above my pay grade."

Not even SEC commissioner Mike Slive is making more than Miles' annual salary of $4.3 million. And no one in the league is as passionate about the scheduling issue as Miles, either.

Miles has done his homework: Since 2000, LSU has played Florida and Georgia -- two of the SEC East's best programs -- a total of 17 times. Auburn is the only SEC West team which has faced those teams more often, playing them 19 times. Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss have faced them a total of 10 times each, while Alabama has played them only eight times.

The loser of the Florida-LSU regular-season game has paid dearly over the past 10 seasons. LSU's 23-10 loss at Florida in 2006 knocked the Tigers out of the SEC championship game (the Gators defeated Arkansas 38-28 and then blasted Ohio State 41-14 to win the BCS title). Last year, LSU's 14-6 loss at Florida probably cost it a spot in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, if not another trip to a BCS bowl game.

Florida's losses to LSU in 2002, '05 and '07 kept them out of the SEC championship game and, potentially, BCS bowl games.

During a closed-door session with ESPN.com on Thursday, Miles suggested in a single breath that Pro Football Hall of Famers Mike Ditka, Paul Hornung and Y.A. Tittle, in addition to SEC legend Archie Manning, would agree that the SEC's scheduling format is unfair. Miles even suggested that LSU needed to march into a federal court and ask a judge if his schedule was equitable.

"The best conference in America is not picking its champion in a fair and straightforward manner," Miles said.

Saban said he sympathizes with Miles because he coached at LSU when the Tigers had to play the Gators every season.

"I know LSU doesn't want to play Florida," Saban said. "But when I was at LSU, the fans loved that game. It's like how our fans love the Tennessee game. There was a time when we couldn't beat [the Volunteers] for seven years in a row. You can't predict it."

Saban said the only way the SEC can ensure its scheduling format is fair is for everyone to play everybody. But with 14 teams in the SEC, it's impossible.

"You have to rotate the schedule," Saban said. "Some years, there are going to be schedules that are easier than others. You can't just say Georgia and Florida because Tennessee has just been just as good as those two traditionally. [Tennessee is] having a lull in their program, and there was a time when Florida had a lull in their program, when they were winning seven games a year. I think everybody is going to go through a lull at some point in time. There's no way to predict it."

The only SEC program that currently seems immune from a lull is Alabama, which is 68-13 under Saban, including a 61-7 record over the past five seasons.

But Saban insists Alabama's recent success doesn't mean the Crimson Tide will be back in the BCS championship hunt this coming season. Alabama has to replace three All-Americans on the offensive line -- center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker -- and nose tackle Jesse Williams and cornerback Dee Milliner on defense.

"That's the challenge," Saban said. "Complacency is always an issue when you have success. It's part of the human condition and what we all have to fight to overcome. You always have to reinvent your team and build the team chemistry."

Saban said every team is different. This past spring, he was concerned about the Tide's effort in offseason workouts and spring practice. He was similarly concerned in 2011 when Alabama defeated LSU 21-0 in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game. Two days afterward, Saban held a team meeting in which he told his returning players they'd accomplished nothing.

This year Saban did the same thing a few days after the Crimson Tide beat Notre Dame 42-14 in the Discover BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7.

"Nobody was ready for it," Saban said. "Everybody needed to chill out for a while. We just kind of let it evolve. It's not that we had a bad spring practice or offseason workout program, it's just some of the things you wanted to see developed slowly."

And, if you believe Saban, we won't know how good the Crimson Tide will be until January.