‘Bama hoping to prove it’s for real

Published 10:56 pm Monday, September 22, 2008

TUSCALOOSA – No. 8 Alabama has routed two teams away from home, made a weekly climb up the national rankings and been awfully stingy on defense. But seriously, is the Crimson Tide for real?

The Tide (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) can presumably dispel any lingering doubt with a win Saturday at No. 3 Georgia, or stir it up with an ugly loss.

“Even if we win the national championship we’re still going to have folks saying, ‘They’re not that good. It was luck. It was a fluke,'” cornerback Javier Arenas said. “We’ve just got to play our game. If we focus on stuff like that, we’re going to go down.”

So far, Alabama has breezed through the first third of the season, including Saturday’s 49-14 win at Arkansas that was the program’s most lopsided SEC win in six years. Then again, the Razorbacks might be in a rebuilding year.

The players didn’t celebrate all that long.

“I heard some guys talking after that game was over with, ‘Let’s go ahead and fly to Georgia now,'” Tide safety Rashad Johnson said. “Arkansas was definitely over with as soon as we left that locker room. I think guys have been looking forward to this game for a long time.”

There was also a convincing opening win over Clemson in Atlanta, but maybe the preseason Tigers were overrated at No. 9 in the Top 25?

Perhaps people who aren’t sure yet if Alabama is a legitimate national and SEC contender are looking at that 13-13 record over the past two seasons and the preseason question marks around inexperienced receivers, linebackers and defensive linemen.

The Tide has risen speedily from a preseason No. 24 ranking, winning its first four games by an average margin of 27 points and holding opponents to only 9.2 points a game.

Alabama did prove it can handle significant hype with that Clemson game.

“It’s going to be a big game, but I don’t think that means much to this team,” quarterback John Parker Wilson said. “We’re going to go do what we’ve got to do. I think we’ve got a great mind-set coming into it.”

Coach Nick Saban also does his best to keep the players levelheaded. He also saw a “significant amount” of areas where improvement is needed Monday when reviewing film of the Arkansas game with players Monday morning.

The big opportunities he cites going into this game: Getting better and displaying “competitive character.”

“It’ll be a big challenge for our team playing against one of the best teams in the country on the road,” Saban said. “I think we need to stay focused on the things we need to do as a team to get better and play our best football.”

He also wasn’t sweating that the Bulldogs are donning black jerseys for the game, something they did in last season’s routs of Auburn and, in the Sugar Bowl, Hawaii.

“Those kinds of things, they only mean something if you let them mean something,” Saban said. “It’s like the old Notre Dame example, when they wear the green jerseys you’re not supposed to beat them. If the Gipper talks to them on Friday night, then you’re not supposed to win that game. When Touchdown Jesus is up there, you’re not supposed to be able to win that game.

“If all that does mean something to you, then I guess it’s a problem. But it really doesn’t. They have good football players. That’s what we’re concerned about. We’re not really concerned about how they’re dressed or what their uniform might be.”

So was his decision to wear a black polo shirt to his Monday news conference a statement?

“It’s the only shirt I could find when I got up this morning,” Saban said with a grin.