Shula on Sunday

Earlier this week Auburn Head Coach Tommy Tuberville made national sports headlines when he criticized the influence that former coaches doubling television analysts, such as Lou Holtz, Jim Donnan and others, have on the national championship race.

Tuberville's comments undoubtedly spawned from the resentment of a year ago when Auburn finished behind unanimous national champion USC and was deemed not good enough to have a shot at USC in the BCS title game. That task went to Oklahoma instead.

Notwithstanding USC's dismantling of Auburn in the 2003 season opener on The Plains when some publications had picked Auburn as their preseason national champions, Tuberville and the Auburn nation have continued their ex post facto barking about how deserving they were of another shot at the Trojans last year. Ironically, the minor stir last week arose after 2-loss Auburn had been virtually eliminated from this year's national championship race.

At 8-0, Alabama is one of five schools still undefeated with an outside-looking-in shot at the national championship. The Tide has Mississippi State and two epic regular season games, as well as the Southeastern Conference championship to concern itself with before even considering pollsters' and analysts' opinions of its team.

If Alabama goes undefeated and is denied the national championship, at least it won't be the first time it's happened to the Crimson Tide. Alabama was denied a national championship in 1966 after an undefeated, untied season when Bama had started the season ranked No. 1, but Notre Dame garnered the championship that year with a tie of Michigan State.

With a little luck, Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula might have to worry about just the thing Tuberville brought into question this past week. For Shula, however, Sunday was too early to insert himself into the debate during his weekly teleconference.

"I really don't have any comment on his comments," Shula answered when offered a chance to weigh in on the debate. "Have we looked at it? A little bit, but there's so many things that you can't control; that you can't worry about. You just have to stay focused and let your play speak for itself. If we get ourselves to start worrying about this and that it's the quickest way to get yourself beat."

Shula didn't know how he might proceed put into a situation where it might be beneficial to lobby for poll position. "I hope I have that problem," he said.

After Alabama's 35-3 victory over Utah State, Shula was more concerned about the number of times quarterback Brodie Croyle was hit by the homecoming opponents. Shula was also quick to point out that it wasn't necessarily the line's fault.

"Brodie got hit a couple of times, but without getting into it too much that wasn't all the offensive line, all 11 took part in some of that including Brodie," Shula said. "I think on the offensive line, we did a nice job. We had a couple of slip-ups, the one sack I can think of right now and Brodie got hit a few times, but it wasn't always the offensive line."

Shula said that the offense was "a little bit limited" in its personnel sets with the absence of Tyrone Prothro (out for the year) and Keith Brown, who was held out of the game with a bruised quadriceps muscle. The up-side to that was a longer look at players who have not had as many looks, like Matt Caddell and Marcus McKnight.

"It's something I'm glad we had the chance for those guys to get on the field and produce for us, and hopefully Keith will be ready," Shula said.

Shula said that his team is still adjusting to life without Prothro and the big-play ability he brought.

"We need to get back to that (big plays) for sure," Shula said. "And we don't have Prothro so we're going to have to do it with some other guys throwing the ball as well as running the ball."

Was the two-man punt return Alabama used against Utah State a one-time experiment or a permanent change? Shula wasn't saying, but punt-catching needs to improve regardless.

"We'll talk about it throughout the week today and the plusses and minuses and if we're going to do it how we can do it better. We've still got to field the ball better," Shula said. "I thought the guys up front in the return did a much better job blocking early in the return. We had the one good return late and we had one earlier where I thought Simeon had some nice moves. We have to field the ball better. That's number one. We would have felt better with that."

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