No. 1 Alabama guarding against overconfidence
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)
Alabama coach Nick Saban always preaches about respecting the opponent, whether it's Michigan or Western Kentucky. Prepare, stay focused and don't get swept up in the positive things people are saying about the Crimson Tide.
Still, it's hard to be humble for a team that just dispatched the preseason top 10 Wolverines, rose to No. 1 and now welcomes a six-touchdown underdog in the Hilltoppers to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.
''You know, there's a tremendous balance between humility and confidence,'' Saban said. ''And this game is a struggle. It's a struggle every day. And you've got to embrace it every day. And you've got to go out there and try to earn it every day, to be as good a player as you can be.
''You've got to have a tremendous amount of character, confidence, mental and physical toughness. You've got to be driven to be the best. And you've got to be able to handle success.''
The coach added that he was ''really, really upset'' about media coverage building up the Tide or making it sound like this game was a sure victory.
Saban can point to Alabama's shaky recent track record in this scenario. The Tide started the 2008 and 2009 seasons against top 10 Clemson and Virginia Tech teams and won both by double digits.
The first time Alabama gained just 172 yards the next week in a 20-6 win over Tulane. A year later, the Tide could muster only a six-point lead over Florida International before exploding for 20 points in the final 19 minutes.
''We did play two teams in these neutral site games before and played horrible the next week, because a lot of the same kind of stuff happened,'' Saban said.
Granted, Alabama looked dominating enough in that 41-14 win over then-No. 8 Michigan to vault over a Southern California team that blitzed Hawaii 49-10. The Tide didn't seem to miss the four first-round NFL draft picks too much.
Hilltoppers coach Willie Taggart was free with his praise of the defending national champions all week.
''They don't seem like they let off,'' Taggart said. ''I think it's by far one of the best teams in the nation. If you ask me they're going to be the next expansion team in the NFL. They'll be that 33rd team in the NFL. They are loaded. Sometimes you look at some of those guys and say, `That's not fair.'
''It seems like those same players are back. You're just putting some of them in different numbers. It doesn't look like there's any dropoff whatsoever. Once again Nick Saban proved us wrong. He reloaded and restocked, and he'll probably have another six defensive players this year ready for the NFL.''
Alabama center Barrett Jones dismisses the NFL reference as a joke or perhaps a strategy to encourage overconfidence.
''Obviously he's kidding,'' Jones said. ''We have a long way to go to be the team we can be. Western Kentucky is a big game. I think most coaches this year, their strategy is to pump us up with compliments, which is great, but we can't really listen to what they are saying. We have to focus on getting better.''
Western Kentucky, which plays in the Sun Belt Conference, has some experience in this situation, too. The Hilltoppers trailed No. 1 LSU by a touchdown at halftime last season before falling 42-9.
Quarterback Kawaun Jakes, in his fourth season as starter, is coming off a career-best 296-yard, four-touchdown effort in a 49-10 win over Austin Peay.
It's the first time the Hilltoppers have won a season opener since 2005.
They'll face a team trying not to get ahead of itself.
''We're just not really worried about where we're ranked in the polls right now,'' Tide cornerback Dee Milliner said. ''We won our first game. That's really all this team has done. We're just focused on winning the next game, and the game after that. Just focus week by week on the games we've got to play and try to win them all.''