No. 3 Alabama hosting FCS playoff-bound Charleston Southern
The third-ranked Crimson Tide's home finale Saturday can't do much to help the team's cause in that regard. The focus instead is on avoiding a lackluster performance against an outmanned FCS opponent and presumably getting Derrick Henry and some other starters a bit of rest.
The Buccaneers (9-2) have already clinched a Big South championship and their first trip to the playoffs. Alabama (9-1, No. 2 College Football Playoff), can clinch a spot in the Southeastern Conference title game against No. 8 Florida with a victory over Auburn next week or an LSU win over No. 25 Mississippi.
Alabama coach Nick Saban got riled over the perception that this game represented a breather for the players. He cited the Tide's win over Georgia Southern in 2011, when the nation's top run defense gave up 302 rushing yards to a triple-option team.
''A lot of people take a lot of things for granted, and I get asked questions like `Well, how important is it for the young guys to get to play this week?''' Saban said during an at times profane rant to reporters. ''Well how in the hell do you know they're gonna get to play? What makes you think that you can just assume that they're gonna get to play? Because you're assuming that the other team isn't very good?''
Alabama has been one of the nation's hottest teams, winning six straight. Ditto in FCS for Charleston Southern, which has eight consecutive victories.
The divide between top teams at the two levels is clear but Buccaneers coach Jamey Chadwell doesn't seem the least bit uptight.
''If we can somehow pull an upset, I don't know if any of us will come back to Charleston,'' Chadwell said. ''We might stay down there and celebrate in Tuscaloosa after the game.''
Charleston Southern hasn't won in 16 games against FBS teams but did come within a point against Vanderbilt (21-20) last season.
Henry has been on a dominant run that's thrust him into the Heisman Trophy race while averaging 29 carries over the last six games. A little rest might be in order.
He's a former high school teammate of Charleston Southern's starting middle linebacker Zane Cruz, and the two stay in touch.
''We've asked (Cruz) to tell him to take it easy on us and only play a quarter,'' Chadwell said. ''But he says coach Saban won't let him do that right now.''
Here are some other things to watch in the Charleston Southern-Alabama matchup:
TOP DEFENSES: The game features two of the top defenses in their respective divisions. Alabama is second nationally against the run, fourth in total defense and seventh in points allowed. The Tide also sacked Mississippi State's Dak Prescott nine times last week. Charleston Southern has the top defense in FCS, allowing 252.9 yards a game.
UPSET HOPES: The benefits for Charleston Southern's program include rare national exposure, a $500,000 payday and the experience of playing in one of college football's biggest stadiums. Chadwell said his players still go in with the mind-set of winning the game.
HENRY'S BACKUP: If Henry does get some respite in the game, it will be a chance for playing time for freshmen Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. Backup tailback Kenyan Drake is out with a broken arm. Both are former 5-star recruits who have had limited roles.
MINKAH'S STATUS: Alabama coach Nick Saban isn't expecting cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick to play in the game. A sprained right knee kept him out of practice early in the week. His backup is sophomore Tony Brown, who has played in all 10 games.