TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Alabama and Fresno State are both making big leaps in competition, just in different directions.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide goes from a Top-5 matchup with Florida State back to Bryant-Denny Stadium as 44-point favorites over Fresno State on Saturday.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, just got through rolling over fledgling FCS program Incarnate Word and now face one of college football’s juggernauts.
Oh my Incarnate Word.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said Fresno State has come a long way since going 1-11 last season. First-year coach Jeff Tedford is a former Fresno State quarterback who led the California program for a decade.
Saban said Tedford is one of the best offensive coaches in the country.
“This is going to be a different kind of challenge for us,” Saban said. “Something that our players have to respond to because this is a much, much improved team.”
So far, the Bulldogs have only had a 66-0 win over Incarnate Word as evidence, and that program has only been around since starting out in Division II in 2009.
Alabama, meanwhile, topped then-No. 3 Florida State 24-7 in Atlanta.
Linebacker Keith Holcombe said Tide players have watched film from Tedford’s days at Cal.
“We know what kind of offense they are - spread it out, fast, up-tempo -so we’re working on that,” Holcombe said. “But really, we’re looking at film like that, but we can’t freak ourselves out. We have to settle in and do what we’re capable of doing, making calls, making the right adjustments. We’ve all practiced this in camp leading up to this, so we know what to expect.”
No matter what the oddsmakers say, Saban has never tolerated talk from media of using an apparent mismatch to get young backups experience, but that could be a goal here. Two of Alabama’s top recruits are freshmen Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback and Najee Harris at tailback.
Some things to watch in the game:
LINEBACKER WHO? Alabama’s going to have to dip into some of its considerable linebacker depth. Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis are both out for the season with injuries. Starters Rashaan Evans and Anfernee Jennings are expected to miss the game also. There are a number of backups with game experience, and a few five-star recruits, to choose from.
TUA TIME: Tagovailoa figures to get his first career snaps if this game goes remotely close to the way most would expect. The five-star recruit from Hawaii enrolled in January and went through spring practices. Tight end Hale Hentges said Tagovailoa had “a really great camp” and has earned the confidence of both Saban and the team.
“We all see leadership from him that’s uncharacteristic, much like Jalen (Hurts) had last year and still has, that is hard to see from freshmen a lot,” Hentges said. “Having that and obviously the great passer he is, the great runner and just overall being a field general really instills confidence in him from everyone on the team. So I think he’s absolutely ready.”
MIKE LOCKSLEY: Alabama wide receivers coach Mike Locksley is expected to coach in the game. His 25-year-old son, Meiko, was shot and killed Sunday night in Maryland. “He said, ‘It’s helpful for me to be here, it kind of gets my mind off of things,’” Saban said, adding that funeral services are Monday and he expects Locksley to fly out after the game.
STREAKS: Saban has won 16 consecutive home openers dating back to his tenure at Michigan State, and 65 consecutive games against unranked teams.
NAJEE HARRIS: Harris got a few carries against the Seminoles and could get more with the status of Josh Jacobs remaining uncertain with a hamstring injury. Harrris was the nation’s No. 3 overall prospect according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
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