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But the performance in Pasadena, Calif., helped him along the way.

“I got a lot of attention from that game,” he said early in fall camp. “It’s hard to go into the mall and go into WalMart and stuff like that, but I love it. It’s who I am now. I love playing football, and they love me for what I do.

“And I love bringing a championship to Alabama.”

Richardson’s showcase opportunity would get substantially bigger if Ingram is unable to return for the second game. That’s when the Tide hosts No. 19 Penn State.

This first game isn’t even televised except on pay-per-view. Richardson’s teammates certainly are comfortable with his ability to step in.

“It shows a great deal what our coaching staff has done in recruiting, and what we’ve been doing to sell this program to recruits,” center William Vlachos said. “We’re extremely fortunate that for Mark to go down _ the heart and soul of our offense (who) won the Heisman Trophy last year because he’s the best player in college football _ we’re fortunate to have guys like that behind him.”

If there’s not a huge drop-off with Richardson taking over as the primary ball carrier, it does leave untested backups in redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy and the junior Goode. Goode has run for 132 yards in his career but had a season-ending knee injury early in 2007. Freshman Corey Grant was a two-time Alabama 100-meter state champion in high school.

Saban wants his players focusing on their chance to step in, not the loss of Ingram. He also doesn’t plan an overhaul of the offense.

“We really want to support Mark and help him every way that we can. It’s unfortunate that he got injured and he’s going to miss the opener, but at the same time it creates opportunities for other people,” Saban said.

“We’ve been practicing what we do all camp. I don’t think right now would be the time to change it.”