Alabama Coach Nick Saban tries to keep his players free from the "clutter"… (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images )
Reporting from Tuscaloosa, Ala. — Alabama and Texas don't play until Jan. 7, but neither team appears willing to wait for the coin flip.
It started last week when Texas announced it would hold its media day for players on Dec. 21 in Austin -- the only access to players prior to arrival in California for the Bowl Championship Series title game at the Rose Bowl.
Alabama then settled on the date for its media day in Tuscaloosa: How about Dec. 21?
You say coincidence?
Texas didn't think so.
Having already anointed Texas No. 1 in August, making the pilgrimage to Austin to inform Mack Brown in person, I decided to hop the first freighter to Alabama to get an inside look at my preseason No. 14.
It's funny how fast things can flip-flop. All season long Alabama Nation was irate at me for underrating the Crimson Tide, but suddenly Tuscaloosa is upset because most experts think Alabama is going to wipe Texas off Hollywood's tour-guide-to-the-stars map.
This has had the undesirable effect of tossing a batting practice fastball into Brown's public relations wheelhouse.
It turns out Texas could not have mismanaged the end of Big 12 Conference title game any more brilliantly, allowing Nebraska to almost win before rescuing the season with one second left on the clock.
Texas and Colt McCoy became sad sacks, maybe not even the top football school or quarterback in the state. The Longhorns turned Nebraska nose tackle Ndamukong Suh from a dominant player into a Heisman Trophy finalist and the Associated Press player of the year.
And if you think Suh is good, wait until you get a load of Alabama's defensive front.
"We're not able to sleep," Brown said this week. "They've got three Suhs up front. That's the problem. Everywhere you look, they've been knocking people down. We've been afraid to show it to our kids. We'll try to limit how much film we'll show them."
Texas caught another huge break when McCoy lost the Heisman to Alabama running back Mark Ingram.
Remember the look on Texas quarterback Vince Young's face in 2005 after he lost the Heisman to USC's Reggie Bush, and then what he did to USC in the national title game?
The game's early table set is arsenic for Nick Saban, Alabama's head coach and micro-manager.
Tuscaloosa is beautiful this time of year. On Monday, the popular carol "Oh Christmas Tree" wafted from outside Coleman Coliseum not far from where St. Nick tried to throw a rope around this runaway longhorn situation.
Saban stood stone-faced at a podium inside the Mal Moore Athletic Facility, a few feet from where a boy earlier clicked a picture of Ingram's Heisman, the school's first, already proudly on display in the trophy case.
Had he a piece of coal in his hand, Saban might have squeezed off a diamond to present his wife, whose December anniversary he always seems to forget.
Saban takes football seriously, one reason he's so good at what he does. He abhors the "clutter" -- wedding anniversaries, magazine covers, television, eating, six players being named first-team All America -- that can distract a team from laser-beam focus.
Alabama senior cornerback Javier Arenas was asked to define clutter.
"Clutter is clutter," Arenas said. "When you're driving down the road thinking of a chick [girl] and you hit a dog, that's clutter."
The thought Texas could maneuver itself into a position of helplessness makes the veins in Saban's head stand up like the soufflés Julia Child used to cook up.
"I think they've only lost one game in the last two years on the last play of the game," Saban said.
"Is that not right? And even though all the talking heads out there seem to want to make them not so, I think they are pretty good."
Oh yeah -- poor old Texas has only won 26 of its last 27, the defeat last year to Texas Tech on Michael Crabtree's last-second catch.
Saban opened up the first 15 minutes of Monday's practice to the media, where reporters could watch Crimson Tide players run through cones beneath the blue sky where Bear Bryant peered down from his tower.
Interestingly, the players located within earshot of the cordoned-off writers were having some difficulty with their drills.
"That's embarrassing," energetic linebackers coach Sal Sunseri barked after a player blew an assignment.
After a horn blew to clear the area of the "clutter," a guy could walk away thinking Alabama still had some things to work on.
Other facts to chew on: Texas is 7-0-1 against Alabama. Interestingly, again, Crimson Tide players seemed to have boned up on this history.
"It is obviously mind-boggling, the fact we've never beaten Texas," junior quarterback Greg McElroy would later say. ". . . We have a winning record against every team in the SEC, the fact we've never even had a win against Texas is pretty remarkable."
Never mind the schools last met in 1982.
"Six years before I was born," McElroy acknowledged. "I'm not real familiar with the actual games. All I know is we lost all of them and tied one."
Texas and Alabama will call a 10-minute truce for Christmas before resuming full-throttle praise of each other on Saturday.