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Nick Saban Keeps Alabama Focused on FIU, Press Asking About Letdown in Sights

Douglas WebbCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2009

MIAMI - OCTOBER 14:  Josh Padrick #16 of the Florida International Panthers looks to pass against the Miami Hurricanes during the game at the Orange Bowl on October 14, 2006 in Miami, Florida. Miami won 35-0.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Taking the Florida International Panthers for granted would be a very bad idea if you happen to play for Nick Saban.

After all, your coach just spent several minutes ripping into a reporter who had the nerve to ask about the possibility of such a letdown.

No, it's not uncommon for Saban to go off on reporters. This one seemed to strike a particular nerve with the coach, however.

Last season, much like this one, Alabama was coming off a victory over the preseason ACC favorite. The Tide had dominated the Clemson Tigers 34-10 and instantly went from preseason afterthought to making everyone's list of up-and-coming teams.

The following week the Crimson Tide took on a Tulane team that was coming off a 4-8 season. Instead of dominating the Green Wave as everyone expected, Alabama struggled to a 20-6 victory. The Tide was unable to shake the loss of left tackle Andre Smith, producing only 172 total yards of offense.

So here's the Tide, once again finding themselves in a very similar situation—coming off a victory against the preseason ACC favorite Virginia Tech Hokies, as well as being a large favorite over their next opponent.

The opponent this time is Florida International instead of the Green Wave. For both teams, though, the game against Alabama signified their season opener. This allows them the luxury of spending all of fall camp preparing for the Tide. That should provide them with a slight advantage headed into Saturday night.

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Rest assured the Panthers were given a little more to think about considering the new wrinkles unveiled by the Alabama offense in its opener.

Alabama tailback Mark Ingram believes there will be no repeat of last season's second game.

"We just came out flat in that game, really," said Ingram. "We were coming off a big win, and we came out flat. I think that was a learning experience for this team. You really can't take any team for granted."

To drive the point home, Ingram added, "A lot of us learned that lesson last year, and we shouldn't have a letdown this week."

Saban is probably wise to make noise to get his team's attention. After all, Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal has seen success recruiting the talent-rich areas of south Florida.

With that type of talent pool to draw from, it's reasonable to expect a very talented Panther team to make its way into Tuscaloosa on Saturday.

No, the Panthers aren't likely to challenge for a spot in a BCS bowl this season. That doesn't prevent the likelihood of them pulling off an upset—the type of benchmark win that a young, up-and-coming program can use to further boost its recruiting.

Clearly, Nick Saban isn't interested in seeing his team be a notch on anyone's belt. He made it clear during his Monday press conference that he won't be taking anyone lightly.

"This is going to be a completely different challenge for us," said Saban, adding, "Lots of speed on the field, wide-open, spread out all over the place, getting guys the ball that can run with it in space."

Saban pointed out receiver T.Y. Hilton as being the type of athlete they would have to face this weekend, saying Hilton was "a better offensive player than anybody we played against last week."

Alabama's players are likely to have those same thoughts drilled into their heads over and over during this week's practices and film sessions. By the time Saturday's game gets here, Tide players should be eager to hit the field looking to put all this talk of a "letdown" and "coming out flat" behind them.

That is, of course, until North Texas hits town the following weekend.

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