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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

A Few Talking Points for Confident Teams

Nick Saban is tired of everyone loving his team. No, not just tired – Saban is upset, and you won’t like Nick Saban when he’s upset, as beat reporters from Toledo to East Lansing to Baton Rouge to Miami to Tuscaloosa can attest. Said Saban on Wednesday, upon being asked how much time his backups might see in Saturday’s game against Western Kentucky, “when you people start writing stuff about people that we’re playing that doesn’t give them the proper respect, that’s not fair. It’s not fair to them, to their players who work hard. It’s not fair to our players, who need to respect them.” And then he got upset.

“And to make presumptions like you all make really, really upsets me. It really does. It’s so unfair. You don’t need to write about that. There are so many more good things you can write about happening around here that people would be interested in. I’d love to see some of you do a little bit of research, and figure it out. It would really do my heart good.

“What makes the really good players good? What makes the really good teams good? They have those intangible things that make them good. It’s work every day around here to try to keep our guys on track to have a little bit of humility and confidence. We win one game and I can’t believe what gets written.”

Well, coach, your team did play pretty well on Saturday – well enough to move into the top spot in both polls. And let’s not forget that Alabama capped last season with a national title. The question regarding second-string playing time was asked for a reason: Alabama’s second-team offense and defense is going to play early and often.

But Saban won’t play with the question; he doesn’t want to be hypocritical, seeing that he’s stressed to his team the importance of taking every opponent seriously. As noted by Andrew Gribble, every player on the roster knows the score: Western Kentucky has won eight of nine, most respond when asked about Saturday’s game, and we’re not taking the Hilltoppers lightly.

If only every team took such lesser-regarded opponents as seriously – say, Pittsburgh, for example, which came out flat in last weekend’s loss to Youngstown State. Well, that’s what we’re here for. What should head coaches across the F.B.S. be telling their confident teams heading into Saturday? A short list of pregame and press conference talking points:

Texas (vs. New Mexico) Bob Davie owns us. He went 8-1 against us when an assistant at Texas A&M: 4-0 when he was the linebackers coach (1985-88) and 4-1 when he was the coordinator (1989-93). He went 2-0, winning in 1995 and 1996, as the coordinator at Notre Dame. Around these parts, we don’t take Bob Davie lightly.

Minnesota (vs. New Hampshire) This is where Chip Kelly once coached. They run the same offense. They have great continuity: one coach since 1999, Sean McDonnell, and only two coaches since 1972. They beat Northwestern in 2006 and Marshall a year later. We needed three overtimes to beat U.N.L.V. last Thursday.

Nebraska (at U.C.L.A.) Yeah, the offense looked awesome against Southern Mississippi. Our defense? It needs a bit of work. So does our special teams. And now U.C.L.A. has some coaching to go with all that talent. The last time we played out in California we got shoved around by Washington.

Boston College (vs. Maine) We’re not very good. We just lost to Miami. We shouldn’t take anyone lightly. Right now, we do only two things well: pass the football and prevent breakdowns on special teams. Kirk Ferentz once coached at Maine.

Washington State (vs. Eastern Washington) They just beat Idaho. They’ve got a couple of solid players. Their quarterback, Kyle Padron, started at S.M.U. before transferring. I don’t know if our offense is ready to go. We need work. We might need a quarterback.

Indiana (at Massachusetts) Have you seen us play? We’re the youngest team in college football. You’ll see more awkward freshmen on Saturday than at a high school orientation. I know Massachusetts just broke into the F.B.S., but the Minutemen have a confident coach in Charley Molnar. We’re not taking any team lightly.

Texas Tech (at Texas State) The Bobcats just went into Houston and dominated the Cougars. How well did they play? They beat Houston so bad that Tony Levine fired his offensive coordinator the next day. The next day! And it was his first game with the program! Have I mentioned that we’re on our third defensive coordinator in three years?

S.M.U. (vs. Stephen F. Austin) We thought we had a chance against Baylor. We didn’t. Stephen F. Austin is ranked in the top 25 – in the F.C.S., but still. How good is their offense? Last year’s backup quarterback, Austin Williams, is now the starting quarterback at Akron – I know, Akron, but still.

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