- Associated Press - Monday, September 18, 2017

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Alabama can now officially begin its quest for a fourth straight Southeastern Conference title.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide has conquered one highly ranked team, Florida State, and produced lopsided wins over a pair of Mountain West Conference opponents. Alabama is gearing up this week for its first SEC game and true road game Saturday at Vanderbilt, which is also 3-0.

“You can kind of tell walking around the locker room, I guess you can say the season’s officially here,” Tide linebacker Keith Holcombe said Monday. “This is what we’ve all worked for. This is what you’re training for back in the summer, running 110s. This is where the season’s made right here, for us to make a run.”

It’s time to, as Holcombe put it, “set your jaw because it’s going to be a fun ride.”

Alabama’s SEC schedule would seem to be back loaded with closing games against No. 25 LSU, No. 17 Mississippi State and No. 15 Auburn. Alabama’s first five league opponents are unranked.

But the Commodores are coming off a win over then-No. 18 Kansas State and lead the nation in scoring, total and pass defense.

Tide coach Nick Saban believes Vandy should be in the Top 25.

Since beating No. 12 Florida State in Atlanta, Alabama has produced comfortable wins over Fresno State and Colorado State at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Now comes SEC play, but quarterback Jalen Hurts said the mind-set needs to remain the same.

“We have to go out there and play our game like all the other games. Nothing changes,” Hurts said. “Obviously we want to kind of get our mind right, I guess, because it’s getting kind of real now. But the same rules apply, the same preparation applies. You have to go out there and play.”

Alabama’s defense is coming off a performance unsatisfactory enough that linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton and defensive back Hootie Jones said there would be a players-only meeting . Colorado State converted 10 of 17 third down attempts and racked up nearly 400 yards in Alabama’s 41-23 victory.

The Rams had two fourth-quarter touchdowns when the game seemed well in hand.

“I don’t think anybody needs to be panicking,” Saban said. “I think the leadership on the team is making an attempt to affect other players maybe to prepare a little better. Eliminate some of the mental errors. Play together as a unit. Communicate a little better.

“These are all things that the coaches will certainly emphasize to the players to try to help them play better. It’s our responsibility to get that across. But we don’t want these things to be like feel-good meetings where everybody feels good when they leave but they were concerned when they started. It could be good and bad depending on how it’s handled.”

TIDE NOTES: Linebackers Anfernee Jennings, Rashaan Evans and Dylan Moses were expected to return to practice Monday, Saban said. All three missed the Colorado State game. Evans (groin) and Jennings (sprained ankle) have missed the past two games. … Alabama reserve tight end Miller Forristall is likely out for the season with a knee injury. Saban said the initial assessment of a season-ending ACL injury was proven correct. He says Forristall will undergo surgery for the injury sustained against Colorado State after his first catch of the season.


More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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