Two improved teams to play

Almost everyone expects two very good football teams to be in Tuscaloosa's Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday when the Alabama Crimson Tide hosts the Auburn Tigers. Moreover, despite several notable injuries, both squads are improved from early in the season.

Alabama, ranked ninth in the nation with a 9-2 overall record and 6-1 Southeastern Conference mark, will host Auburn (7-4, 4-3) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. CBS will televise the game.

Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione pointed out that Auburn has improved as the season has progressed. And, he said, "I certainly feel our football team has improved during the season."

Franchione said that improvement comes when a football team has stability at certain positions. Ordinarily that means avoiding serious injury. As an example he cited Alabama's offensive line, "five guys who have played together all year. They should get better."

Sometimes a team has a key player injured, but a reserve steps up and fills in adequately. The best example of that is at tailback, where Auburn lost its star, Carnell Williams, but has had excellent production from Ronnie Brown, and Bama lost Ahmaad Galloway, but has had three men­Santonio Beard, Shaud Williams, and Ray Hudson­provide running punch.

"I think our team worked hard and got better," Franchione said. "Teams that have good seasons seem to do that."

Based on this week's practice, Franchione probably wouldn't be surprised to see Bama show continued improvement Saturday. Following Thursday's 75-minute behind-closed-doors workout in helmets and shorts in the indoor facility, Franchione said, "We've had a good week. Today was another good day. We cleaned things up the right way. This has been a typical week for us. Our guys do a good job every week being business-like. They have done a good job of getting ready."

Told that a national sportscaster, Trev Albert of ESPN, had said that Alabama is the only team in the nation that could play both offensively and defensively with Miami, the defending champion and current top-ranked team, Franchione said, "That's very flattering. But we've got a couple of games left to show what we can do."

Saturday's game is the final SEC game for both Alabama and Auburn and it's the final regular season game for Auburn. Auburn still has a mathematical chance at the SEC Championship Game and a major bowl game, but realistically is looking at a minor bowl invitation. Alabama is not eligible for a bowl, but has a 13th regular season game at Hawaii on November 30.

For many years it was a tradition that Alabama's seniors served as captains for the Auburn game. That will be the case again this year, although it's not just a sop to tradition. Franchione said that this year's permanent captains have already been elected, but that he will not disclose the results of that team vote until next week. For the Auburn game, all the seniors (including walk-ons) will serve as captains.

"This senior class is a great group of leaders and we felt in the last game at home we would pay tribute to all the seniors," Franchione said.

Punter Lane Bearden, who is playing despite having suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament earlier this year, and Ahmaad Galloway, the Tide's tailback who was lost for the year with a knee injury, will represent the seniors at the coin toss.

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