TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Antoine Caldwell is already convinced that this Alabama team is different from the one that faced Arkansas a year ago.
That team had won its first three games, but never seemed to get it together after a confidence-sapping overtime loss to the Razorbacks.
``You never really thought about it, but that kind of was the turning point in our season, because it did seem like we went downhill after that game,'' the Crimson Tide center said Monday. ``We've matured as a football team. No matter what happens on Saturday, win or lose, we understand that one ballgame can't make or break a season like it did last year.''
It might not be a make-or-break game Saturday against No. 16 Arkansas, but it is the start of the Tide's first big stretch under coach Nick Saban. Alabama's blowout of Western Carolina and a relatively easy win at Vanderbilt are nice, but don't prove that 'Bama is back, or even dramatically better.
Those answers should become clearer in the next few weeks. First the Tide faces the Razorbacks (1-0, 0-0). Then, it's No. 23 Georgia and Florida State.
``Vanderbilt was a tough team,'' defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. ``Those guys played hard, but at the same time they're not like an Arkansas.''
And what about those Bulldogs and Seminoles?
``I can't even tell you who we're playing next week or the week after,'' Gilbery said.
Saban also isn't about to engage in that kind of looking ahead. Is Arkansas the first real measuring stick?
``I think the most important thing is where we stand today, what we can do today to improve as a team,'' he said. ``Every game that we play, we find out about ourselves. We find out what we need to work on. This game will be no different.''
Actually, it will be a bit different.
It's against the defending SEC Western Division champions, who took advantage of three missed field goals and a missed extra point in overtime for a 24-23 win over the Tide last season.
Alabama went 3-6 after that game against Arkansas last season, only getting wins over Duke, Mississippi and Florida International.
It's also different because the Tide has to prepare for Arkansas tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
The first challenge was finding a player to simulate McFadden for the scout team.
``Probably Superman, or maybe Spiderman,'' Gilberry said. ``There's nobody on any scout team that can simulate Darren McFadden.''
Or, as Saban put it, ``If we could simulate him in practice, we'd play the guy.''
In truth, running back is one spot where Alabama seems perfectly OK. Redshirt freshman Terry Grant is leading the SEC in rushing with 307 yards and five touchdowns and has won freshman of the week honors after both games.
Plus, the defense managed to hold Vandy to 232 yards in a 24-10 win.
Is all that an indication that Alabama is improved? Maybe, but a win over Arkansas would make a much bigger statement.
``This win would be huge,'' cornerback Simeon Castille said. ``It would give us momentum going into Florida State and Georgia. It really does seem like this game either makes or breaks your season. You don't want to say that, but usually it does.''

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