TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Alabama coach Nick Saban made sure his players knew that they’ll always be remembered for 2014. Good, bad or great.
The third-ranked Crimson Tide will certainly be judged more for Florida than Florida Atlantic, Mississippi than Southern Mississippi and the finish rather than the start.
”I told the players (Friday), `You know what, five years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years down the road, somebody somewhere – whether it’s the barbershop or the used car lot – it’s going to come up that you played football at Alabama,” Saban said after Saturday night’s 52-12 romp over Southern Miss.
”And the next question that’s going to get asked is, they’re going to say, `When?’ And you’re going to tell them 2014. Then they’re going to say something based on the identity that you created individually and collectively as a team this year.”
The heart of this team’s story will really start to be written in the coming weeks. The Tide (3-0) start a seven-game stretch against Southeastern Conference teams Saturday against Florida (2-0, 1-0 SEC), which is coming off a 33-30, triple-overtime win over Kentucky.
The coming weeks represent much bigger challenges for a team that has won its last two games against FAU and Southern Miss by a collective 93-12. Four of the games are on the road for a team that hasn’t had to play in a hostile environment, and three are against Top 10 competition.
The stretch includes road trips to No. 10 Ole Miss, Tennessee and No. 8 LSU, plus a home game against No. 6 Texas A&M.
A team that sets national titles as a primary goal annually – and generally not unrealistically – has much to live up to.
Saban’s message to his team before facing 48-point underdog Southern Miss was clear: Make sure that legacy isn’t one of unfulfilled potential. He said something ”pops into my head” when each season is brought up.
”But most of the time it’s not so good when you don’t feel like the team reached its full potential,” Saban said. ”When you didn’t do a good enough job for the players to play like they needed to play or to buy in like they needed to buy in.
”That’s going to be really important for this team to continue to do, because if we’re going to win, we’re going to win as a team. We’re not going to win because of individual great players, and I think everybody’s got to buy into that.”
Alabama enters SEC play with the quarterback question resolved, at least. Blake Sims has claimed the starting job over Jake Coker with poised, confident play.
Saban said he still wants Coker to play and build his own confidence, but indicated he didn’t feel comfortable taking Sims out until the Tide had pushed its lead to 35-9 late in the third quarter.
Tight end Brian Vogler said Sims has grown ”tremendously” since Game 1 against West Virginia.
”He came in kind of nervous,” Vogler said. ”It was his first real opportunity, and the composure’s just growing, and the sky’s the limit for the guy.”
Receiver Amari Cooper said Sims’ confidence is evident in how vocal he has become.
”Volume reflects confidence, and he’s been more vocal,” Cooper said. ”He’s been speaking up louder in the huddle.”
Alabama’s biggest short-term question mark going into the Florida game moves from quarterback to safety. Jarrick Williams remains out with a fractured bone in his foot, and a targeting infraction leaves his replacement Nick Perry suspended for the first half against the Gators.