September 12, 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Once again, Alabama has a game seemingly tailor-made for the quarterback contenders to go head to head.

Barring a major surprise, Blake Sims-Jake Coker II is the most intriguing part of the third-ranked Crimson Tide's game Saturday against Southern Mississippi.

The ideal scenario for the Tide (2-0) would be to have the starting quarterback matter settled before opening Southeastern Conference play against Florida in a week. Alabama coach Nick Saban makes it clear the winner will be whoever supplies the best chance of beating the Gators.

''We're not really ready to make any kind of prediction on what we should do in the Florida game when we're playing Southern Miss this week,'' Saban said.

The reality is that Southern Miss (1-1) is a 48-point underdog that held off Championship Subdivision team Alcorn State just 26-20 last Saturday for its second victory in the last 26 games.

The Tide dispatched Florida Atlantic 41-0 in a weather-shortened game that afforded both quarterbacks plenty of chances to make their case. Oregon still vaulted Alabama in the Associated Press Top 25.

Sims has started each of the first two games, while the lopsided outing against FAU marked Coker's first significant action for the Tide.

''They have two quarterbacks and they have done a great job with both of them,'' Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said. ''They are both good players. A lot of times you see a program and they can't decide on the quarterback and that says that they don't have a guy who is talented enough. That is not true.

''Both of these guys are talented enough and warrant being the starter. Either one of them could start and lead them to victory. It is a good problem for them to have and they have done a good job with it.''

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Here are some other things to know about this game:

COOPER'S CATCHES: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper has a whopping 25 catches for 319 yards through two games, leading the nation in both categories.

PROGRAM GAUGE: In his second season, Monken is embracing the challenge against the Tide. ''They are the model of consistency,'' he said. ''You want to go and play someone who is at the top of what you do in Division I football and that is Alabama. They are well-coached. They don't give you much. They run the football. They can throw it. It is going to be a real challenge for our team, but we are excited. ''That is why you get in this profession to see where you are at. We are going to take our team over there Saturday and fight like heck and see what happens.''

RUNNING BACKS: Southern Miss freshman Ito Smith ran 32 times for 118 yards against Alcorn State. By contrast, none of the Tide's running backs had more than seven carries versus FAU. Even with the quarterbacks under the spotlight, Alabama should salivate over this number: The Golden Eagles have allowed 496 rushing yards in two games.

RENEWAL: These teams once met regularly, every season from 1992-2005 in fact. The Golden Eagles' only on-field win in 21 trips to Tuscaloosa (Alabama forfeited another victory) was in Bear Bryant's final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 13, 1982.

FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS: Saban makes his expectations clear even going into presumed mismatches. ''He kind of preaches to us that champions don't really focus on their opponent,'' Tide receiver Chris Black said. ''That's what he's been preaching since last week. We've got to play to our standard.''

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