Franchione's message to his team

The off week behind them and now facing a run of six straight conference games, Tide Head Dennis Franchione had a message for his team. <br><br>"I talked to them about how there is not a great deal of difference between any team in this league," Franchione related.

At the midway point of competition, the Southeastern Conference has the look of a league in transition. The "Mighty Gators" are far from mighty this season, and traditional third-place Georgia enjoys a two-game lead in the SEC East.

"Just watch the games," Franchione told his team. "Florida/Tennessee, Florida/Ole Miss, Arkansas/Tennessee, Arkansas/Auburn, Tennessee/Georgia… Week in and week out--the line between winning and losing for most of the teams is very fine."

In only his second season coaching in the SEC, Franchione is becoming recognized as one of the top coaches in the league.

Prevented from taking part in post-season play by NCAA sanctions, Alabama's goal this year is simple. Win out in the SEC. And prove to the football world that the Best in the West will not be playing in the SEC Championship game.

But the task will not be easy.

Franchione explained, "You've got to play well. You've got to compete every play. You've got to make it all count. You've got to hope you get a break or two along the way and make something out of it. If you get a break or two, then you might get a safe lead, like Arkansas (versus Auburn) and Florida (versus Tennessee) did."

In addition to tough opponents, Alabama has also had to overcome bad injury luck this season. "I still say it's who you play, when you play them, where you play them and who is healthy and who is not," Franchione said. "All are tremendous factors in the balance of the league."

Ranked No. 5 in the nation, Georgia leads the way. But five different SEC squads are ranked in this week's AP poll. And five other teams could crack the Top 25 before the season is done.

"Anybody can beat anybody," Franchione noted. "My challenge to the guys was that now that they've had some time off, to come back and respond with the correct focus and effort in practice and preparation. I reminded them that we did not come back as well off our open week last year as I thought we should have."

Franchione was being kind.

In 2001 the Tide's off week fell between Tennessee and LSU. After keeping it close for most of the game, Bama lost to the Volunteers in the fourth quarter. But the week of rest did no good versus LSU, as the Bengal Tigers blasted Bama, 35-21.

Last year Alabama did not play well following its open week. But Franchione is determined that won't happen again. (Associated Press)

Of course following that loss, Alabama reeled off four straight wins to salvage the year. "We got better as the season wore on," Franchione reminded his players. "And we want to do that again.

"But that's only going to happen with the right kind of practice habits day in and day out."

Alabama's record now stands at 4-2, but both losses came against Top 5 teams. Coming off a thrashing of Texas, the Oklahoma Sooners are second in the nation. And this past weekend the Georgia Bulldogs took a solid win over Tennessee to assume a commanding lead in the SEC East.

But Franchione isn't looking for any excuses. "Both Georgia and Oklahoma are playing well," he acknowledged. "And there maybe is a little bit of solace in that. We realize we could have won both games.

"We have played good teams. Our losses have come against two of only a small number of undefeated teams in the nation. We've lost to pretty good ball clubs. But you don't take a lot of satisfaction in losses."

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