Published January 13, 2015
It's all about Alabama.
That's the message top-ranked Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban typically imparts before games almost everyone outside the football offices will have trouble taking seriously, and this one is no different. Saban's priority remains on improving with winless Georgia State visiting on Saturday.
"We respect our opponent this week, but the focus has to be on everybody getting better," he said.
Coming off a win over No. 24 Mississippi, Alabama (4-0) and Saban know that shoring up weak spots and making sure individual players progress will come in handy sooner or later, whether it's needed against the Panthers (0-4) or not.
Georgia State is in its inaugural season in the Football Bowl Subdivision and has already lost to FCS teams Samford and Jacksonville State from the state of Alabama.
Now, they're eight-touchdown underdogs against the two-time defending national champions.
"They are impressive in everything they do," said Trent Miles, Georgia State's first-year head coach. "They're so big, physical, fast and well-coached. But we're excited to go play and compete against the best."
The Panthers have been outscored by an average of nearly 20 points so far, including a 41-7 loss to West Virginia.
Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley said Tide players shouldn't let that affect their performance.
The goal, he said: "Try to play to our standard, not play to each opponent's level, basically like not play to Georgia State's level. Then when we play our next SEC opponent to play better and maintain our standard of football or play Alabama football."
It's not as if the Tide doesn't have some areas to work on. The offensive line has been maligned in the early season and has allowed seven sacks and had an uncharacteristic number of runs stuffed in the backfield.
Alabama would probably like to get receiver Amari Cooper more involved, too. Cooper, who starred as a freshman, has only nine catches for 100 yards and no touchdowns while Christion Jones has emerged as AJ McCarron's primary go-to receiver.
The defense, however, has given up only six points in the past two games.
Here are five things to watch as Alabama faces the Sun Belt Conference team:
THE ATMOSPHERE: Tide safety Vinnie Sunseri says there's no reason fans should skip this one, or give anything less than full-throated support. "We have 12 games a year, and every game that's a home game everyone should come out and bring a lot of enthusiasm and excitement because we're going to try and do that on the field every single game," Sunseri said.
THE BACKUPS: Plenty of talented 'Bama backups could get some playing time if the game indeed proves lopsided. They range from backup quarterback Blake Sims to receiver Chris Black and freshman tailbacks Altee Tenpenny and Derrick Henry, along with some young defenders.
GEORGIA STATE'S PROGRESS: The Panthers lost to Alabama 63-7 to close their first season in 2010. Now, the Sun Belt program is in its initial season in FBS. "I know that there's been a lot of progress made in this program since the last time we played them in terms of the quality of players they have, how well they're executing," Saban said. "I know it's not sort of equated itself in wins yet this year, but they do some really good things as a team."
CHAD AT CENTER: Alabama's Chad Lindsay will make his first start at center with a knee injury to Ryan Kelly, who's not expected to miss more than two or three games. Lindsay played most of the game against Mississippi.
ALBERT WILSON: Georgia State receiver Albert Wilson is a seasoned big-play threat and someone Alabama will have to be wary of. Wilson's career average of 19.6 yards on his 126 catches is tops among active FBS players. He has 22 receptions for 457 yards and four touchdowns.