(2) Alabama - 35, Arkansas State - 0
By John Zenor - AP Sports Writer
November 2, 2008

  Glen Coffee
Glen Coffee (38) runs in for a touchdown past Arkansas State defensive back Dominique Williams (8).
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)—New No. 1 Alabama is heading to LSU for a big game between two of the top teams in the Southeastern Conference. And Nick Saban is returning to the stadium he once ruled.

Guess which topic makes the Crimson Tide coach more than a little touchy?

With his team off to a 9-0 start and now at the forefront of the national title hunt after dispatching Arkansas State 35-0 on Saturday, Saban doesn’t want to be the story line in his return to face No. 15 LSU. In fact, he bristles at the very subject.

“It’s going to be about our players and about our team,” he said after Saturday’s game. “I don’t care how hard anybody tries to make it about something else, it’s not going to be. I’m kind of giving you a little forewarning.

“If somebody wants to get a you-know-what chewing this week, that’ll be a good way to get it.”

It’s fairly certain Saban won’t be able to dodge questions about his return to Baton Rouge no matter how hard he tries. Another sure-to-be hot topic: The Tide’s first regular-season No. 1 ranking since losing the top spot with a 6-3 loss to Mississippi State 28 years and a day earlier when Bear Bryant still reigned.

Saban coached the Tigers from 2000-05, going 13-1 in 2003. His homecoming to the school he spurned for a two-year stop with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins just happens to coincide with what certainly appears to be his best team since then. Saban’s return to an SEC West rival makes a warm welcome by LSU fans highly unlikely.

You know Saban wants to avoid such talk when he even brings up his team’s record, the type of subject he normally avoids with his ultra-focused approach.

“It’s not going to be about that,” he said of facing his former team. “This team is 9-0 and has played extremely well all year long. LSU has a very, very good football team. They were national champs last year, they’ve lost to two top-10 opponents this year, and we’ve got to play them on the road.

“And it’s going to be about our players and their players and the players on the field. That’s what it should be about. If anybody makes it about something else, then you’re not really being fair to the players.”

It could be about an Alabama defense that pitched its first shutout in nearly three years against Arkansas State and produced its fourth defensive touchdown on Rashad Johnson’s interception return. The Red Wolves managed just 158 yards.

The Tide hadn’t won its first nine games since 2005, a season that ended with losses to LSU and Auburn. The program’s last top ranking came with the 1992 national championship after a Sugar Bowl win over previously No. 1 Miami.

Alabama has won its past two games, including a visit to Tennessee, by 55 points after a series of close calls or second-half letdowns.

Saban said he “shouldn’t have mentioned” the Tide’s record, but just wanted to emphasize his players’ performance. Then he brought up the ever-changing public perception of a team that needs only a win over LSU to secure a spot in the SEC championship game.

“We didn’t have much respect starting out, got some respect, kind of lost it in the middle by how we played, got it back last week,” he said. “We did all that and never even lost a game. It doesn’t even really matter what our record is now and it doesn’t matter about any of that other stuff.

“The thing that I was emphasizing was what our players have accomplished to this point. They shouldn’t be satisfied with that. We shouldn’t be satisfied with that.”

Alabama has been rolling lately against teams the Tide was supposed to beat, including a 29-9 win at Tennessee. Saban’s players are following his lead in talking about the matchup with LSU.

“It’s just another SEC game,” tailback Glen Coffee said. “We’re playing a great team, and all that extra stuff, let other people talk about it.”

Saban said nose guard Terrence Cody remains “day-to-day” with a sprained knee that has sidelined him the past two games, but thinks he should be able to practice this week. Beyond that, Saban isn’t certain. Josh Chapman has been starting in Cody’s place.

“A player shouldn’t lose his position because of injury, but how much he’s going to be back in terms of his effectiveness relative to that injury, I don’t know,” Saban said. “I don’t have a crystal ball.”