Monday, September 30, 2013
No. 1 Alabama facing much kinder October schedule
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama's reward for beating two ranked SEC West teams in September is an October lineup that seems to set a clear path to a showdown with No. 10 LSU.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide will almost certainly be double-digit favorites for every game before the next really big one, starting with eight-touchdown underdog and winless Georgia State on Saturday.
Still, Alabama coach Nick Saban insists there's no sure thing in college football. His message: "We respect every opponent that we play, regardless of their record."
"You see these games where Akron almost beat Michigan or whatever it is," Saban said. "There's nothing to be taken for granted in any team you play.
"I think the best way to do that is focus on who you are, what you're doing, how you want to improve and how you want to play to be the best player you can be. That's certainly going to be our focus for this week."
The Tide (4-0) had an up-and-down September but emerged unscathed despite barely escaping No. 9 Texas A&M with a win and sputtering against Colorado State, the only huge underdog on the month's agenda. Every other Western Division team already has a defeat, and only Missouri -- which hasn't played a Southeastern Conference game yet -- is perfect in the East.
Alabama responded to the Colorado State performance with a 25-0 win over No. 24 Mississippi, the only ranked opponent remaining before the Nov. 9 game with LSU. Nobody else on the schedule is currently in the Top 25 besides LSU, and the four October opponents -- Georgia State, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee -- have a combined record of 7-11.
The schedule seems to line up nicely for Alabama, barring a sizable upset along the way.
All four of those teams are led by first-year head coaches.
Alabama won't play any of the three ranked East Division teams -- No. 6 Georgia, No. 13 South Carolina and No. 18 Florida -- unless they meet in the SEC championship game.
As Saban said, it becomes about Alabama now. There's certainly areas for improvement, especially on a rebuilt offensive line and an offense that still ranks 13th in the SEC. Center Ryan Kelly is likely out at least the next two games with a knee injury.
Chad Lindsay played most of the game against Ole Miss, when the Tide racked up 254 yards on the ground and held the Rebels to 205 total yards.
"We had something to prove, I guess," guard Anthony Steen said. "We knew we should have played better against Colorado State and we wanted to go out there and show everybody that we're better than that, and I think we did. But I think there's room to improve after watching the film."
The Tide might have learned a lesson from the 31-6 win over Colorado State about handling business in games where fans and poll voters are expecting a blowout. Alabama only pulled away with two fourth-quarter touchdowns in that game.
A win by the same margin over Ole Miss was much more impressive. Anything short of a dominating performance against Georgia State would be regarded as another letdown.
"We don't want to be sleep-walking this week," safety Vinnie Sunseri said. "We're excited. We want to keep the momentum rolling. We want to build off this win. It was a big win, but we've got to move on from it and keep progressing, keep moving forward."