Here are three questions for the Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0) heading into Saturday's game (5 p.m. CT/ESPN2) at Ole Miss (2-3, 0-2). We'll check back on Sunday with three answers.
Dont'a Hightower and the UA defense will face an Ole Miss offense missing three significant contributors and a quarterback making his first SEC start.
1.] Will the Ole Miss suspensions serve as a rallying point for the Rebels or just another Alabama rout?
Following Thursday's practice, Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt announced one-game suspensions for four offensive players, including running back Brandon Bolden, who ranks fifth on the Rebels' all-time rushing list.
Bolden sustained an ankle injury in Ole Miss' season-opening loss to BYU but returned a few games later. A senior team captain, Bolden scored two touchdowns in the Rebels' 38-28 win over Fresno State on Oct. 1.
Starting center A.J. Hawkins will also sit out the Alabama game, along with guard Alex Washington and wide receiver Philander Moore. Hawkins' streak of 10 consecutive starts will come to end Saturday. Washington has 10 career starts to his credit, with eight of those coming during the 2010 season. Moore, a junior college transfer who has played sparingly this season, has four receptions for two yards to his credit.
With Bolden out, starter Jeff Scott will likely be asked to take on an even bigger load, with Enrique Davis getting more carries behind Scott.
Sophomore Evan Swindall is listed behind Hawkins at center on the Ole Miss depth chart this week, while Patrick Junen, a Huntsville native, looks to be in line to start in place of Washington at left guard. Junen started against Alabama in 2010, along with Hawkins and current starting tackles Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie.
Obviously, losing Bolden and Hawkins couldn't have come at a worse time for the Rebels. For a second, though, forget about what this means to the three-legged underdog's chances of shocking the world Saturday night.
Where the embattled Nutt is concerned, there are bigger concerns in play here. Specifically, does anything scream "program in disarray!" like three seniors suspended midway through a coach's fourth season on the job? It's not like this is year one of a new regime, when the "buy-in" process typically yields situations like the one Ole Miss currently finds itself in.
Not that he's ever needed an excuse to go Les Miles but given the circumstances, Nutt, who will undoubtedly deliver a pregame message to his team Saturday that would make Ernest Angley proud, can be expected to dial up the unexpected this week. And he'll probably do it more than once.
Will it matter? Only if Alabama also does the unexpected. For the Crimson Tide, that means losing the turnover battle and/or surrendering points in the kicking game.
2.] With the focus of college football fans and media already on Nov. 5, will the Crimson Tide be focused on Oct. 15?
It never loses its place on Nick Saban's to-do list but after last week's sluggish first half against Vanderbilt, here's guessing Alabama's head coach beat the "fast start" drum this week with the same ferocity that the late John Bonham displayed on Led Zepplin's "Rock and Roll".
And wouldn't you know it? After Saban and his staff spent most of the week building the Rebels up to 1985 Chicago Bears status, news of the Ole Miss suspensions came down.
Of course, Saban would tell you it's not about who the Crimson Tide plays, anyway. Instead, it's about playing to a standard established by a program that has won 42 of its last 47 games.
That approach will come in handy this week, because the point spread would probably be tighter if the Crimson Tide literally was playing against itself. As in 1s vs. 2s and 3s.
3.] Can Alabama's wide receivers carry over their impressive performance from a week ago?
Given the struggles the Ole Miss defense has had against the run, chances are the Alabama passing game won't be the focal point of the offense this week. I know, I know, how's that different from any other week, right?
Still, from a confidence standpoint, following up a productive outing from a week ago with another strong showing against Ole Miss would do wonders for a young receiver like DeAndrew White, who will be needed come November.
Prediction: Alabama 31, Ole Miss 9.
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