TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama coach Nick Saban won’t be concerned with protege Will Muschamp’s job security once the game against Florida kicks off. Nor will Muschamp have the third-ranked Crimson Tide’s national championship hopes on his mind.
The friends will be all business Saturday when the Gators visit Alabama the Crimson Tide’s SEC opener.
“I never try to make it personal,” Saban said. “We compete against each other and we’re still friends, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
Their professional situations differ greatly. Saban is the $7 million man who has led the Tide (3-0, 0-0 Southeastern Conference) to three national championships in the last five years. His former defensive coordinator at LSU, Muschamp has the Gators (2-0, 1-0) hoping to stage a big turnaround from an injury-plagued 4-8 season that placed him on the hot seat.
Saban has heaped praise on the job Muschamp has done, said Florida is “as talented probably as anybody that we play this year” and without prompting chastised reporters for underrating the Gators.
Florida is a two-touchdown underdog in a matchup between the SEC’s most dominant programs of the last two-plus decades, which is fine with center Max Garcia.
“People are writing us off, but that’s just how we want it,” Garcia said. “We’re going to go in there and compete.”
Saban and Muschamp met as head coaches in 2011. The teacher won 38-10 en route to another national title.
The ‘Bama coach still calls his Florida counterpart one of the best assistants he has ever had. Muschamp returns the compliment.
“I probably wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for the opportunities he gave me early in my career,” the Gators coach said.
Before Muschamp arrived, the two teams met in a pair of 1 vs. 2 matchups in the 2008 and 2009 SEC championship games, splitting the spoils evenly. The Tide has won the past three meetings by an average of 24 points.
“Games like this, players really get excited,” Saban said. “If they don’t, they don’t understand playing Alabama football and they don’t understand playing in the SEC.”
Some things to watch in Saturday’s game between Florida and No. 3 Alabama:
NEW OCS: Alabama’s Lane Kiffin has been the league’s most talked about new offensive coordinator, but Kurt Roper was a huge hire for the Gators, too. Neither offense has been held under 500 yards this season and Alabama hasn’t gained this many (1,705) through the first three games since 1973. Florida’s 50.5-point average is seventh-best nationally.
MOBILE QUARTERBACKS: This will be Blake Sims’ first SEC start after being formally declared winner of the battle with Jake Coker a week ago. He has run for 102 yards and two touchdowns, and Muschamp said Sims’ ability to extend plays presents a challenge to the defense. The Gators’ Jeff Driskel hasn’t been used as a runner but did gain 408 yards on the ground in 2012, and could be a double threat in Roper’s offense.
STAR RECEIVERS: Alabama’s Amari Cooper has a nation’s best 33 catches and his 454 yards ranks third. Florida’s Demarcus Robinson is coming off a school record tying 15 catches with 216 yards in a three-overtime win over Kentucky, including a touchdown on fourth-and-7 in the first overtime. “I think their catch radius is off the charts,” Muschamp said.
SECONDARY CHALLENGES: Both defensive backfields have been targeted at times but each has an All-American caliber player, with Alabama safety Landon Collins and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.
Kentucky’s Patrick Towles passed for 369 yards against the Gators. Tide safety Nick Perry will miss the first half because of a targeting foul. Jarrick Williams has been out with a foot injury but has practiced. Saban also said highly touted freshman cornerback Tony Brown “will play a lot this week.”
BRUISING RUNNERS: Both teams can pound away at opposing defenses. Florida’s 235-pound Matt Jones ran for 156 yards and the game-winning touchdown against Kentucky. Alabama counters with 221-pounder T.J. Yeldon and 241-pounder Derrick Henry, who both have been used sparingly in blowouts since each topped 100 yards in the opener against West Virginia.
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida., contributed to this report.
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