Bring it on!

With No. 1 ranked Oklahoma headed to town Saturday, Tide All America guard Justin Smiley almost can't wait. <br><br>"Alabama/Oklahoma, that's old-school," Smiley said appreciatively. "That's back-in-the-day football."

As much a fan as he is an athlete, Smiley loves the pageantry associated with big-time college football. "This one means more than your average non-conference game," Smiley said. "It's sort of like a throw-back game. It's going to be a battle. (ESPN) GameDay is on campus. It'll make for an awesome environment."

Since signing with Alabama in 2000, the Georgia native has come to love the Crimson Tide. Through no fault of their own, he and his teammates have experienced the tough times the past few seasons. Now he's ready for some positives.

"It's definitely a chance to show out to the nation," Smiley said of Saturday's nationally televised contest. "Our backs have been to the wall. We've been backed in the corner for awhile with the NCAA stuff and coaching changes. This will be important.

With Evan Mathis to his right, Justin Smiley looks up at the JumboTron last season. The battle between Alabama's offensive line and the Sooner defense will be intense.

"But I'm not going to approach (Oklahoma) any differently than I approached South Florida last week--other than trying to come out of the gate playing like we did in the second half."

Last season the Tide traveled to Norman, Oklahoma. The two teams battled back and forth all game, with the contest only decided in the final minutes off a fluke fumble.

Smiley remembers it well. "The atmosphere was amazing," he said. "When you talk about traditions of college football, you think of Alabama and Oklahoma. I think about the uniforms. Their uniforms and our uniforms are similar--kind of old school. It counts like every other game, but certain games stick out in your mind.

"As far as tradition and college football history, this series really sticks out."

What does he remember about the game itself? "When we came out after halftime, we just started running right at them with power," Smiley recalled. "To be able to close the gap and then go ahead, that was memorable."

The Sooner defensive line is a solid two-deep at every position. All-star defensive tackle Tommie Harris is back. But in the second half at least, Smiley consistently got the better of Harris in last year's game. "It helps that we played last year," Smiley said. "I sized them up. Those guys are tremendous athletes.

"But I know my ability, and I know our offensive line's ability. I know we'll be fine. We've just got to start fast--don't take so long to get started."

Smiley was post-season All-SEC in 2002 and has made several pre-season All-America squads this year.

Guided by their head coach Bob Stoops, Oklahoma plays outstanding defense. Smiley commented, "You've got to give credit where credit is due. Those guys over there are amazing. But our offense is pretty good, too. It took us awhile to get started last week, but I'll let our actions speak for us."

Recently, Smiley had a chance to spend some time with Sooner linebacker Teddy Lehman. He and Lehman were both selected Playboy All-Americans, and the two met at the selection ceremony this summer. "Teddy is an amazing linebacker," Smiley said. "It should be fun to try and go get him. Teddy's got amazing speed. He was a track champion in high school, which gives him really good closing speed.

"Their entire defense is fast. Every one of those guys will run to the ball and get in on the play. That's what their defense is known for."

Last season Alabama finished third in total defense, behind only TCU and Kansas State. But once again national pundits are proclaiming Oklahoma the best defense in college football. Is Alabama getting the respect it deserves? "You get tired of hearing about it," Smiley acknowledged, "but at the same time those guys have earned it.

"I'll just let our play speak for itself. The second half last week was a glimpse of what we're capable of. This week will tell a lot."

If the national media is to be believed, then Alabama has no chance Saturday. Shoot! the poor Tide players will have trouble even getting a first down, right?

Smiley just laughed. "Noooo. They put their pants on just like us, man. Those guys are no different. They're tremendous athletes. They've got great speed on defense. That's their signature. They've got amazing 40 times.

"Speed kills, but there are ways to counter that. And we're pretty fast ourselves. For offensive linemen, we're pretty speedy as well."

In the second half of last week's opening game, Alabama looked very good on offense. But it took almost the entire first half for the Tide to get in gear. Versus the Sooners, another slow start could be fatal.

"We've got to come out of the gate and handle our business," Smiley said. "We can't come out rusty like we did against South Florida. We just can't afford to come out flat. Otherwise, it'll be the same as last year, playing from behind."

As a student of college football history, Smiley loves the special pageantry associated with big games.

Both Alabama and Oklahoma began their respective seasons with solid victories over middle-tier opponents. Smiley for one is glad to have had the chance to work the kinks out. He explained, "We were trying to find ourselves on offense at first. Then in the second half we picked it up and started doing what we wanted to do. I'm glad we got that first game out of the way. We were rusty and out of sync. We'll use that game as a stepping stone for this game."

When Alabama is on offense Saturday, watch the play along the line of scrimmage. With Smiley, Britt and company on one side, and Tommie Harris and friends on the other, it promises to be an epic battle.

"Oh, man! You can't worry about all the extra-curricular activities that are going on," Smiley said while shaking his head. "I'm going to have 10 family members here. Wes (Wesley Britt) is going to have his whole family here. It makes it exciting, because you know that millions of people are going to watch on ESPN.

"This is the game that everybody wants to watch. It's a chance to go out and display your athleticism. That's what I'm excited about. You want to do good in front of everybody. Everybody can see how far Alabama has come."


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