W. Carolina-Alabama Preview
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Alabama coach Nick Saban is enjoying this team for more reasons than big wins, talent and depth.
He also likes the second-ranked Crimson Tide, who moved into the No. 1 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, because they don't have so-called ''energy vampires'' sucking time away from the coaches and perhaps affecting the team's focus or chemistry.
''Basically, what I mean by that is as a head coach when you have energy vampires on your team who never do what they're supposed to do and take all your energy as a coach,'' Saban said on Monday. ''So you've got five guys who take all your energy and never get to enjoy the other 95 guys who do everything right.
''We just don't seem to have those guys on our team, and we seem to have a lot more guys that sort of like each other, buy in, try to help each other, want to do what's best for the team. That's always more fun to deal with as a coach.''
The wins help, too. The Tide (9-1) jumped from fifth to first in the playoff rankings following a 25-20 win over then-No. 1 Mississippi State last Saturday.
Now come two more home games where Alabama figures to be sizable favorites. The Tide play FCS Western Carolina on Saturday and then would secure a spot in the SEC championship game with a victory over No. 16 Auburn at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Tight end Brian Vogler echoes Saban's sentiment, saying ''we all get along with each other really well.'' He said it's not that this wasn't true of previous teams.
''It's just, in the past, it used to take maybe three or four guys with energy to get everybody else fired up,'' Vogler said. ''And now, we can just have any random guy just start the energy fire and it just starts picking up and everyone joins in.''
Going from much-hyped games with LSU and Mississippi State to an FCS opponent can put Saban on high alert for complacency. Players also are trying to recover from two physical games.
Saban gave the team Monday off from the normal practice with players like tailback T.J. Yeldon, receiver DeAndrew White and placekicker Adam Griffith nursing injuries.
His voice and intensity level rose when asked about balancing preparing for the Western Carolina game with letting players recover physically.
Saban compares the challenge of regaining focus when a team lets it slip to trying to get momentum back in a game once it's gone.
''If we took the approach that OK, we want to get healed up, we'd have half the guys saying, `Hey, I think I need to get out this week because I've got a bad hip,''' he said. ''My shoulder hurts from when I got hurt when I was playing. I got a separated shoulder. So maybe I ought to take a back seat out there as a coach, try to get healed up for the game.
''How are we going to get better?''
Then he repeated that last question in case anybody missed his priorities. His players are familiar with the message, sometimes delivered with more ferocity before supposedly easy games than before the more hyped matchups.
''We've got a long way ahead of us, so we're trying to get better every day,'' defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson said. ''We're trying to work on little things, technique, things we missed out there on Saturday.
''He gets on us real fast. We're taught to do what we're supposed to do every play, whether it's practice or every game.''
This game will likely bring an ugly close to the regular season of Western Carolina's first winning campaign since 2005. The Catamounts (7-4) have been overwhelmed by a combined 153-6 score in three meetings with Alabama - all since 2004 - and lost 49-0 in 2012.
Western Carolina, though, did put up a good fight on the road against its only FBS opponent in a season-opening 36-31 loss to South Florida.
Troy Mitchell had a career-high 374 yards passing that day, and he had 339 last Saturday along with 109 rushing as he totaled six touchdowns in a 42-27 win over VMI.