- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Two years ago, Alabama was in this very same position: 5-0, ranked No. 1, looking like world-beaters. The Crimson Tide had all but one first-place vote in the coaches' poll heading into a seemingly benign matchup against No. 19 South Carolina.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Stephen Garcia did what he had never seemed capable of doing -- the inconsistent quarterback played a perfect game under center for the Gamecocks as they upset the Tide 35-21 in Columbia, S.C.
Fast-forward to 2012, and Alabama is headed to Columbia again -- this time the newest SEC stop in Missouri. Alabama is 5-0, ranked No. 1 in both polls and has the appearance of college football's Goliath, while David seems to be nowhere in sight.
But appearances can be deceiving. A hulking Alabama will have its wherewithal tested by a brutal five-game stretch that begins this Saturday against Missouri. A road date at Tennessee comes next, followed by No. 19 Mississippi State, a trip to No. 9 LSU and then No. 22 Texas A&M at home.
As safety Nick Perry said after beating Ole Miss: "We're going to get every team's best from now on. We're going to have to show that we're up for the challenge every Saturday."
Missouri presents its own challenges, despite the news that starting quarterback James Franklin will miss the game with a strained MCL. The Tigers run a no-huddle, spread offense that will test Alabama's ability to get into the proper alignment, something it struggled with against the Rebels two weeks ago.
"It's kind of hard to adjust practice to a game-like situation," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "The coaches have to -- and we have to demand of ourselves -- to have a fast pace every day in practice this week. We have to do our extra running after practice and get extra work in the weight room and watch film and be ready for everything they do."
Said safety Robert Lester: "It's something that we haven't seen. We'll have to adjust to it. Usually when teams spread receivers out they want to pass the ball. Well, they have talented quarterbacks that can run the ball. Most of their run plays are from their quarterback. It's something that we'll just have to keep watching film and practice and know how to stop the run with the quarterbacks and receivers playing wide."
Lester, who was a redshirt sophomore when Alabama lost to South Carolina in Columbia, remembers the pain of the flight back to Tuscaloosa and doesn't want this year's team to suffer the same fate.
That team thought it could beat anyone, anywhere. This one knows it could lose at any moment. It happened in Columbia, S.C., and it could very well happen in Columbia, Mo.
It's been a point of emphasis all spring and fall: Don't let history repeat itself. Don't let 2010 happen again.
"There's a lot more guys that don't want those feelings to come back as we had in 2010," Lester said. "Leaving South Carolina after a loss, it was horrible. I knew what it felt like and a lot more guys knew what it felt like. Like Nico [Johnson], Dee [Milliner]. We don't want our younger guys to go through that and we definitely don't want to go through it again. So we're doing as much as we can to keep that from happening again."
On Monday, coach Nick Saban said, "I told you so," to the media -- referencing the supposed upsets of LSU, Georgia and Missouri during the weekend. Ever since Alabama beat Michigan in the season opener, Saban has used his bully pulpit to point out that any team can lose at any time.
"The only thing predictable about college football is its unpredictability," he said on Monday.
Saban called Missouri's offense one of the most challenging his team will face all season in terms of the number of formations and motions they employ. He had similarly glowing words in regard to the defense, which ranks 19th in rushing yards allowed per game.
"We're playing a new opponent that in my mind is a very challenging opponent for a lot of reasons," Saban said. "They're a very good defensive team. They're ranked nationally in most categories defensively. They're physical, they're tough, they're very aggressive."
Missouri might be 3-3 and winless in the SEC, but Saban had an answer for that, too.
"They've had some problems and issues this season with some very good players being injured," he explained. "Regardless of those circumstances and situations, I think that they have some very good players that are filling in.
"Our team needs to be ready to play their best against what I would say is a very, very good football team."
For Lester, it was a point that needed no emphasis, especially when he looked back on two years ago. Missouri might be reeling without its quarterback, but the Tigers are still dangerous.
"I learned from the 2010 year when we lost to South Carolina, LSU and Auburn," Lester said. "So, I mean, anything can happen in college football."
22hEthan Sherwood Strauss