Southern Miss.-Alabama Preview

September 9, 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Alabama hasn't gotten sidetracked through one neutral-site game, an utterly overmatched opponent or a quarterback competition that's still going strong.

So a one-spot drop in the Top 25 is barely a blip on the now third-ranked Crimson Tide's radar going into yet another presumed mismatch Saturday against Southern Miss. Coach Nick Saban said the goal is "focus stamina" from his team, defining that as aiming "to get better one thing at a time, one day at a time, one play at a time."

The polls aren't part of that equation, especially not just going into Game 3. A 41-0 shellacking of Florida Atlantic wasn't enough to counter No. 2 Oregon's 46-27 victory over No. 13 Michigan State.

"We don't listen to what people have to say about the quarterback battle," Alabama tight end Brian Vogler said Monday. "We don't listen to what people say about the polls. We are just trying to go out there and try and be the best team we can be. Everything we do is internal and we are all working to push each other. And we are all working to be the best team we can.

"What people have to say about that, it's their own opinion. I think we have a great team. We are looking really good now. There are places we want to improve on, but the sky is the limit."

Saban called that performance against FAU workmanlike despite the final margin against an opponent Nebraska had beaten 55-7. Alabama (2-0), which has outgained the Owls and West Virginia 1,158-538 in total yards, doesn't have much chance to make a statement this Saturday either against 47-point underdog Southern Mississippi (1-1).

The quarterbacks might, though. Blake Sims and Jake Coker split time against FAU but after this game Florida and No. 14 Mississippi await.

Saban said the situation hasn't changed after both quarterbacks passed for 200-plus yards in the last game. Presumably that means they'll rotate for the second straight week, though Sims has started both games.

"I know that you all (reporters) would love to create a quarterback controversy," Saban said. "But I think as much as you might try to do that, the one thing that I noticed that I wish you noticed is that after Jake Coker's touchdown pass, who was the first guy to go jump up and give him a congratulations and a hug and all that? Blake Sims. Both guys are working to improve. We need them both to work to improve. Both players did good things in the game and both players did things that they can improve on."

He dismissed as "hypothetical" a question about whether he wants to have a starter before the Gators visit on Sept. 20.

As for the rankings, this isn't the first time the Tide have dropped after a win under Saban.

Alabama also fell from No. 2 to No. 3 after beating Kent State in the 2011 opener and two spots following a 12-10 victory over Tennessee in 2009. Both those teams ended up as national champions.

Saban said Alabama has improved from a 33-23 opening victory over West Virginia, but still has much more to prove.

"I think a lot of people have a lot more to prove because they haven't really played a lot of games yet," he said. "We've got a lot of really good competition that we have to play coming up in our league, as well as this game this weekend against Southern Miss."

In other words, one thing at a time.

The Crimson Tide have a 33-6-2 lead in the all-time series with Southern Miss, but the schools haven't met since Alabama's 30-21 victory in 2005.

The Golden Eagles aren't expected to make this one so close. They are coming off a 1-11 season and opened this one with a blowout loss to an unranked SEC team, 49-0 at Mississippi State. Southern Miss regrouped to beat FCS foe Alcorn State 26-20 last Saturday behind Nick Mullens' two touchdown passes and Ito Smith's 118 rushing yards.