Don't Look Ahead

Tuscaloosa , AL - Nick Saban had Alabama in excellent shape heading into November last season, having turned the Crimson Tide from an afterthought to an SEC contender in his first year on the job.

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Saban's team, though, couldn't end its struggles in the season's final full month.

With a spot in the BCS championship game now within their grasp, the second-ranked Tide will have considerably higher stakes at play during their slate this November, which starts Saturday with a visit from Arkansas State.

Oddsmakers from have made Alabama -24 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 89% of bets for this game have been placed on Alabama -24 (View College Football bet percentages).

Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) was 6-2 and ranked No. 17 at the end of last October, an impressive climb in Saban's first season in Tuscaloosa after he inherited a program coming off a 6-7 finish in 2006.

However, Alabama's season went downhill quickly after that. The Crimson Tide lost all four of their games in November, including an ugly 21-14 defeat at home to Louisiana-Monroe, a member of the Sun Belt conference.

An arguably more impressive Sun Belt member will visit Bryant-Denney Stadium this week, as Alabama - looking to end a nine-game November losing streak - kicks off the final month of the regular season against Arkansas State (4-3, 2-1).

"We've struggled a lot the past few Novembers,'' junior left guard Mike Johnson said. "The guys that have been through it in the past need to step up and say 'we need to keep doing the things we've been doing to win.'"

Last season the Crimson Tide closed their October schedule by hammering then-No. 20 Tennessee 41-17, and nothing changed a year later. Alabama controlled the clock and dominated the line of scrimmage against the Volunteers on Saturday in Knoxville on its way to a 29-9 victory, which Saban called "a complete game."

The Tide held on to their No. 2 ranking for the fifth straight week and remained second in the BCS standings, putting them in prime position to play in the BCS title game on Jan. 8 in Miami - provided they can take care of business in November first.

"If we continue to do what we do and can go undefeated in the SEC and win an SEC title, it would be hard to keep us from playing in the big game,'' safety Rashad Johnson said.

Much of the focus in Tuscaloosa will be on next week's game at LSU - Saban's first trip back to the school he abruptly left for the NFL in 2004 - but first up is the Tide's second-ever visit from potentially dangerous Arkansas State.

The Red Wolves have beaten the only BCS conference opponent they've played this season, topping Texas A&M 18-14 in their Aug. 30 season opener. With a similar roster last season, Arkansas State outgained and in large part outplayed then-No. 4 Texas in a 21-13 loss.

"This is a good team," Saban said. "I know sometimes people don't have the proper respect for these teams, but this team certainly has done enough this season ... to garner everyone's respect."

The Red Wolves are coming off a 28-23 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on Oct. 18 in which they blew a nine-point fourth-quarter lead.

Arkansas State ranks 22nd in FCS in total offense, averaging 435.7 yards, but they haven't faced a defense quite like the Crimson Tide's. Alabama is fifth in the nation in total defense, yielding just 263.1 ypg.

The Tide only gave up 173 total yards to Tennessee despite missing stalwart defensive tackle Terrence Cody, who is expected to sit out again this week before returning to face LSU.

Offensively, Alabama ranks just 60th in the country, averaging 370.5 total yards. The majority of that comes from a ground game, led by Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram, which ranks 18th in the nation (205.4 ypg).

Coffee is averaging 104.8 yards per game - fourth in the SEC - but he's gained just 130 yards total in his last two games. He may find more running room against the Red Wolves. Arkansas State has given up an average of 216.0 yards on the ground in its past two road games, losses to Memphis and Louisiana-Lafayette.

The Red Wolves may have trouble stopping the rush, but they can certainly run it themselves. Arkansas State ranks 12th in FCS with 225.1 rushing ypg, led by the duo of Reggie Arnold and Derek Lawson.

Alabama won the only previous meeting between these schools, 34-7 in 1982.

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Key Player Injuries
[RB] Preston Brown is expected to miss entire season - Suspension - 08/21/
[LB] Greg Hardy missed last game ~?~ - Undisclosed - 10/18/08
[DL] Terence Cody injured last game, expected to miss 3-4 weeks. - Knee - 
[LB] Jimmy Johns has been suspended from the team. - Disciplinary - 07/01/
[LB] Ezekial Knight expected to miss entire season. - Illness - 07/17/08
[QB] Nick Fanuzzi has transferred. - None - 08/26/08

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Posted: 10/28/08 1:44 PM

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