Now that his team has sailed through the first half of the season with a perfect record, Alabama coach Nick Saban believes he knows how to keep his players from getting distracted by polls and possibilities.
"What I tell them is, 'Can you tell me who was ranked where on this date a year ago?' " Saban said. "If anyone can tell me that, I guess it has some significance. Otherwise, it doesn't. Therefore, we shouldn't worry about it.''
For the record, Alabama is ranked second to Texas in both major polls and the Crimson Tide probably control their own destiny in the national title chase.
Of course, Florida found itself in a similar position three weeks ago before losing 31-30 to Ole Miss at the Swamp. Now the Rebels will try to interfere with one more SEC rival's national championship dreams.
Ole Miss lost 27-24 to Alabama last year by allowing 10 points in the final eight minutes. Ole Miss' last hopes for a comeback ended after a replay reversal of Seth Adams' 41-yard completion to Shay Hodge, which would have given the Rebels the ball at Alabama's 4 with seven seconds remaining.
The Rebels would love to earn revenge in Tuscaloosa.
"We've got a tremendous challenge," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said, "and we're looking forward to it."
Alabama OT Andre Smith vs. Ole Miss DE Greg Hardy. Assuming these two line up against each other Saturday, it would match the SEC's best pass rusher against one of the nation's top offensive linemen. Hardy recorded 13 tackles, delivered three sacks and forced two fumbles last season in a 27-24 loss to Alabama. He spent most of that game lining up against Mike Johnson, who since has moved to guard. Hardy has battled injuries and inconsistency for much of this season, but his performance in a 31-30 upset of Florida showed he still has the ability to dominate a game. Of course, few pass rushers have much success at all against Smith, a future first-round pick. Smith's presence on the left side of the line is a major reason Alabama is unbeaten and ranked second in the nation. Hardy needs to have a big game for Ole Miss to have a shot at pulling off the upset. Smith wants to make sure that doesn't happen.
South Carolina QB Stephen Garcia. Garcia, a highly touted redshirt freshman, finally makes his first career start Saturday. And he won't exactly be easing into his new role. Garcia's first start is coming against the defending national champions, who should be eager to make a statement after suffering an embarrassing 51-21 loss to Florida last week. Garcia earned a shot at the starting job by coming off the bench last week and rallying South Carolina to a 24-17 victory over Kentucky. A big performance this week would resuscitate South Carolina's hopes of competing for the SEC East title.
Alabama RB Glen Coffee has rushed for 466 yards and five touchdowns in his past three games. … Arkansas RB Michael Smith has 309 rushing yards and 89 receiving yards in the past two weeks. … Florida RB Jeffrey Demps has rushed for 232 yards and three touchdowns on only 17 carries over the past two weeks. … Florida WR Percy Harvin has caught at least one touchdown pass in four consecutive games. … Florida K Jonathan Phillips is 9-of-9 on field-goal attempts this season. … Kentucky DT Myron Pryor has 3.5 sacks in his past two games. … Mississippi State QB Tyson Lee has thrown 93 passes this season without getting intercepted. … Tennessee SS Eric Berry has picked off a pass in back-to-back games. He has returned each of the interceptions at least 48 yards.
Auburn QBs Kodi Burns and Chris Todd have combined to throw nine interceptions and only five touchdown passes. … Auburn K Wes Byrum has gone 3-of-7 on field-goal attempts over his last five games. … Tennessee RB Arian Foster has rushed for a total of 185 yards in his past four games. Foster rushed for 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. … Vanderbilt QB Chris Nickson has lost his starting job after going 6-of-18 for 19 yards with two interceptions and no touchdown passes in his past two games.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
"Offensively we just don't have an identity, and that's what we have to do this week. We didn't have enough time last week in the short week to try and put band-aids to some problems that we're having. Now we've got about 10 days to do that." – Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville to AuburnSports.com .
"He said, 'You kind of shanked that thing.' '' – Florida LB Brandon Spikes to GatorBait.net , discussing Gators punter Chas Henry's critique of Spikes' post-touchdown celebration Saturday in a 51-21 victory over LSU. Spikes punted the ball into the stands after scoring on a 52-yard interception return
"We're trying to get ready to play Georgia, and that's all I've tried to concentrate on. We've got plenty of things to do here without me worrying about anything like that." – Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson on rumors linking him to the Clemson coaching position. Johnson lettered three years at Clemson as receiver and cornerback before graduating in 1973.
"They're big, fast and physical, just like any other SEC team, and they have some of the best athletes in the country. They won the national championship last year, but I definitely think we can beat them as well as anybody. We just have to play our game.'' – South Carolina's Garcia to GamecockCentral.com about making his first career start Saturday against LSU.
Kentucky WR Dicky Lyons Jr. will miss the rest of his senior season with torn ligaments in his right knee. … Auburn QB Kodi Burns will make his second consecutive start when the Tigers return to action Oct. 23 at West Virginia. Burns and Chris Todd both struggled last week against Arkansas. … Mississippi State held Vanderbilt to seven first downs Saturday in a 17-14 victory over the Commodores. That represented the lowest single-game total by a Mississippi State opponent since Auburn also had seven in a 17-10 loss to the Bulldogs in 2000. … Tennessee gained just 1 net rushing yard Saturday in a 26-14 loss to Georgia. That marked the lowest single-game rushing total by a Georgia opponent since Mark Richt took over as Bulldogs coach in 2001. … Tennessee SS Eric Berry is tied for the NCAA lead with four interceptions. … LSU's Trindon Holliday leads the nation with an average of 25.1 yards per punt return. … The SEC boasts seven of the nation's top 21 teams in total defense: No. 3 South Carolina, No. 10 Alabama, No. 14 Auburn, No. 15 Georgia, No. 16 Kentucky, No. 18 Florida and No. 21 Tennessee. The SEC also has four of the nation's top 12 teams in scoring defense: No. 3 Kentucky, No. 10 Florida, No. 11 Auburn and No. 12 Alabama.
SEC MIDSEASON REPORT
BEST GAME: LSU 26, Auburn 21, Sept. 20. The latest edition of college football's most exciting rivalry featured redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee bouncing back from a brutal first half to rally LSU from a 14-3 halftime deficit. Little did we know at the time that this loss would kick off a slide that would knock Auburn out of SEC title contention by the midway point of the season.
BEST REMAINING GAME: Alabama at LSU, Nov. 8. Nick Saban's return to Baton Rouge already was one of the most anticipated regular-season games even before Alabama returned to prominence. Now that this game could have national title implications for both teams, the hype for this one could reach 2005 Ohio State-Michigan proportions.
BEST PLAYER: Alabama OT Andre Smith. The emergence of Alabama's offensive line as a dominant force has played a major role in the Crimson Tide's return to glory. That's why we'll use this category to honor the Tide's best offensive lineman. You could make an argument that Smith isn't even the SEC's best offensive tackle – the Alabama junior is competing with Ole Miss' Michael Oher for that honor – but Smith gets the nod in this space because his team is playing better than Oher's squad.
BEST COACHING JOB: Alabama's Saban. We would have given this honor to Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson last week, but the Commodores fell back to earth a little by losing to Mississippi State. And the Commodores' victory over Auburn doesn't look quite as impressive now that the Tigers followed it up by losing at home to Arkansas. Alabama has returned to SEC and national title contention at least one year ahead of schedule.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Tennessee RB Arian Foster. The guy who ran for 1,193 yards and 12 touchdowns last season hasn't reached the end zone this season and has rushed for a total of 145 yards in the Volunteers' past four games.
MOST SURPRISING UNIT: Alabama front seven on defense. The arrival of NT Terrence Cody, a junior college transfer, has made it virtually impossible for anyone to run on Alabama. Georgia is the only team to score more than 14 points against Alabama this season.
MOST DISAPPOINTING UNIT: Tennessee offensive line. The Vols returned four starters from a line that allowed the fewest sacks in the nation last year, yet Tennessee now ranks 43rd in that category. Moreover, Tennessee ranks 89th in the nation in rushing.
COACH ON THE HOTTEST SEAT: Auburn's Tommy Tuberville. He put his neck on the line by firing first-year offensive coordinator Tony Franklin at midseason. He certainly didn't help himself when Auburn lost to Arkansas in its first game without Franklin. Alabama's return to power doesn't help.