TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Alabama’s Josh Chapman insists it’s easy to get up for opponents like North Texas, who presumably can’t match the second-ranked Crimson Tide’s size, depth or speed.
He even scoffs at the notion that ‘Bama (2-0) might be a little distracted going into Saturday night’s game by that upcoming SEC Western Division showdown with No. 14 Arkansas.
“I mean, we’re playing games,” said Chapman, the Tide’s plain-spoken noseguard. “That’s what we love to do. Especially playing here when we’re at home. We go out and know what we’ve got to do.”
As 45-point favorites, that’s most likely just avoid big mistakes and injuries and try to build a big enough lead early that some stars can take a break and backup quarterback Philip Sims can get some seasoning.
Alabama coach Nick Saban sees it as a week to “challenge ourselves to play to our best.”
The Mean Green (0-2) are trying to avoid a second straight 0-3 start and give first-year coach Dan McCarney a big boost in rebuilding the program.
North Texas, though, hasn’t beaten a Southeastern Conference team since topping Tennessee in 1975 and is 3-32 alltime.
Alabama is the highest ranked team North Texas has faced since opening the 2003 season with a 37-3 loss at then-and-now No. 1 Oklahoma.
This is a sandwich game for Alabama, a potentially easy-to-overlook matchup coming between marquee games with Penn State and the Razorbacks.
It might present a perfect opportunity for young Tide quarterbacks AJ McCarron and Sims to build some confidence ahead of SEC play. North Texas allowed 563 yards passing against Houston — 458 by starter Case Keenum — last weekend. Alabama is about as likely to throw 59 passes as Saban is to do the Texas two-step on the sidelines but McCarron and Sims should get some chances to target the secondary.
Plus, senior receiver Darius Hanks returns after missing the first two games under the NCAA redshirt rule.
That gives the passing game another experienced threat in a continuing effort to fill the void left by receiver Julio Jones. Marquis Maze has been the go-to target with half of the wide receivers’ 24 catches.
Saban doesn’t think working Hanks back into the offense swiftly will be a problem.
“The fact of the matter is that he is an experienced player, and he ought to be able to go out there and play well with a lot of confidence and do the things he has been doing for a long time,” the coach said.
Fellow receiver Kevin Norwood expects much from Hanks, whose 32 catches ranked third on the team last season.
“He’s a great receiver,” Norwood said. “He’s going to have a big impact. He’s an important receiver to this offense. It devastated him to not be able to come out and join the team and be a receiver. He brings his motivation back to the team.”
North Texas counters with the dangerous Brelan Chancellor and a prolific tailback, Lance Dunbar, who’s trying to get going. The program’s No. 3 career rusher has gained more than 3,200 yards but is averaging just 2.9 yards on 36 carries through two games.
Wide receiver/return man Chancellor leads the nation in all-purpose yards with 594 already. A defense that has given up 45 points in the first quarter alone helps explain why he’s had 17 kick returns already.
Saban said Dunbar is probably “as good as anybody we’ll play against.”
“North Texas is a team, in my opinion, that has some very, very good players that’s very capable of making explosive plays,” he said. “The guy (Dunbar) gained almost 1,600 yards last year. Lance Dunbar is a really, really good player.”
McCarney’s challenging job continues. The former Iowa State head coach is facing his third straight team predicted to win its conference after Florida International (Sun Belt) and Houston (Conference USA).
He’s also familiar with Alabama after spending the past three years coaching Florida’s defensive line. The Gators were 1-2 in three meetings while he was on the staff, splitting two clashes in the SEC championship game.
McCarney said he wants his players to embrace the chance to play in “one of the most tradition-rich places in America.”
“What a challenge. What an opportunity,” he said. “Alabama’s got it all. Good luck trying to find somebody in the country that looks better than those guys do on tape right now. They’re just a tremendous team. I know them up close and in person.”
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