Saban, Bama trying to avoid mediocrity against FAU
By JOHN ZENOR
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Top-ranked Alabama shouldn't need to be anywhere near its best to beat 50-point underdog Florida Atlantic (1-2) on Saturday - just don't tell Nick Saban that.
The Crimson Tide coach doesn't want good enough to be deemed, well, good enough.
"What we try to emphasize with our team is to demand more of themselves so that we can improve as a team and be the best we can be and hopefully play our best when our best is needed," Saban said. "I sort of try to challenge our players to do that. It's human nature to get motivated when something bad happens. But why do you need one of these `I-told-you-so' games?"
An Owls' win would be more of a "that score can't be right" game.
Florida Atlantic (1-2) coach Carl Pelini is in his first year trying to resuscitate a program that went 1-11 last season and didn't win a Sun Belt Conference game. By comparison, Alabama has only lost about half that many games (six) in the past four seasons combined playing in the rugged Southeastern Conference.
The biggest question might be if the Tide - which has steamrolled Michigan, Western Kentucky and Arkansas by a collective 128-14 - can post its third straight shutout. Alabama (3-0) hasn't done that since Bear Bryant's unbeaten 1966 team laid goose eggs on its final four regular-season opponents.
Now, that would be a high standard.
The Owls are coming off a 56-20 loss at No. 5 Georgia in another guaranteed big payday game, but they were tied at 14-all at one point in the second quarter.
Pelini has been on the flipside of this type of game as defensive coordinator at Nebraska, where brother Bo is the head coach. He doesn't expect Saban to let his team come in treating it as a ready-made blowout.
"I think that's one thing that Nick has been able to do through the years is to be a very consistent football team," Pelini said. "That is the key for us, and that's the key for them. Like I said last week, I didn't say the word `Georgia' until Friday night. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter who you're preparing for, you've got to prepare.
"You've got to get them ready to play. Same thing for Alabama. If they want to continue their upward trend as a football team, they need to prepare for us just like they would prepare for Auburn. If you can do that as a coach, you've accomplished 90 percent of your battle because you're going to continue to get better as a football team. You're not going to have those mood swings that some teams have."
The Owls had only squared off against one Top 10 team before this double whammy, hosting No. 6 South Florida in 2007.
Alabama has already beaten another Sun Belt team, Western Kentucky, 35-0 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. That week, Saban griped about media coverage he said presumed the Tide would roll and indicated the team didn't practice very well. That team just upset the Southeastern Conference's Kentucky, though.
This week, he's summoned up Peyton Manning and Michael Jordan as examples of constantly striving competitors.
Saban's message to his players two weeks ago still lingers freshly in their memories. Linebacker C.J. Mosley said the team talked about that the day after dismantling Arkansas 52-0.
"We got together and said we've got to have a better week," Mosley said. "We have to improve and bring the momentum from last week to this week's game."
Saban praised the team's practice efforts this week, perhaps indicating a lesson was learned.
Updated September 21, 2012