TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Legend has it, every person on earth is tied to one another through the connections shared with six others.
By Monday, Nick Saban put his own spin on the six-degrees of separation theory when spelling out the reason Alabama should not take first-year program Georgia State lightly when the fledgling program comes to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Thursday evening.
“(Georgia State) played to overtime against Jacksonville State who beat Ole Miss,” Saban said. “We respect the players that they have. We respect the good job of coaching that they do. They present issues and problems that we need to resolve on offense, defense and special teams just like every other team that we play. Even though they have a lot of young players they have some good players, some very good players.”
Maybe so, but it can’t be an easy sell convincing a team that won a national title a year ago to see the upset potential from a program that didn’t even play games last November.
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In its first season of existence, the Bill Curry coached Panthers are 6-4 playing an assortment of lower division opponents. But there is that scare that Georgia State delivered to the team ranked sixth in the FCS in Week 3 that ended in a 34-27 overtime loss.
The Panthers have a quarterback Alabama fans might be familiar with, but Tide transfer Star Jackson hasn’t found much playing time in Atlanta either. Through 10 games, Jackson has appeared in just three and has two interceptions among his nine attempts and just four completions.
Most Las Vegas sports books aren’t even offering a spread on the game but 5dimes.com puts Alabama as a 57 1/2 point favorite.
Still, Alabama safety and SEC defensive player of the week Robert Lester said the short week of preparation can’t be overlooked in the equation. He also couldn’t understate the importance of staying focused on the challenge the Panthers present as opposed to looking forward to a highly-anticipated Iron Bowl.
“We don’t want to just not look at Georgia State and let them have the advantage,” Lester said. “Because if we’re so worried about Auburn, then Georgia State would have a good chance to come in and upset us.”
The Panthers had a bye Saturday just as the final six SEC opponents on Alabama’s schedule including Auburn which doesn’t play Saturday before coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium next Friday afternoon.
Playing on the short rest is something Alabama isn’t exactly accustomed to. A year ago, it had just six days between beating Chattanooga on a Saturday before traveling to Auburn for a Friday game after Thanksgiving. This year, instead of facing the short week before playing the Tigers, Alabama asked Georgia State to move the game from Saturday to Thursday and pay the school an extra $35,000 on top of the contracted $400,000 for the inconvenience.
Running back Mark Ingram said he has a new-found respect for teams in the Mid-American Conference and Conference USA which regularly play on weeknights for national television coverage.
“Definitely. I always wondered how somebody could play on, like, a Tuesday or a Thursday, things like that,” Ingram said.
“I know it’s difficult having a short week. We do have a tremendous amount of respect for them just being able to always prepare in a short time.”
Practice schedules have also shifted as a result of the Thursday game. The Tide worked indoors Monday because of weather on a day that resembled more of a Wednesday in a regular game week. Saban said the team is cutting out a lot of the fundamental work it would normally do to work with the scout team on game planning.
And nose guard Josh Chapman promises, that’s preparation for Georgia State and not Auburn.
“You can’t look past any team in college football,” Chapman said.
“It’s not like high school ball when you try to look past a team you think you can beat. Any team can be beat any given day.”