Smith Not Concerned About Underdog Status

Andre Smith

About the only time one expects to hear Ole Miss this week in discussing Alabama and Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game is mention in passing that the Rebels defeated the Gators in Gainesville earlier this year. But one Alabama player had another reason to mention Mississippi Monday in discussing the upcoming game.



Alabama All-America offensive left tackle Andre Smith may appear to handle all defensive opponents with equal ease, but Smith has seen a difference in defenses in helping the Crimson Tide to a 12-0 record this year. And he sees a similarity in Florida's defense.

Smith said the Gators' defense is "fast, pretty physical, and they are strong and explosive. They have a great defensive line, great linebacker corps and a great secondary. Overall, they are just a great defense."

And asked to compare Florida's defense to the best he has played against, Smith had something of a surprising answer. It wasn't LSU of 2007, for instance.

"I'd say this year's Ole Miss team," Smith said. "They have the same type athletes, good players."

Like all Alabama players who met with sportswriters Monday afternoon, Smith said he wasn't concerned about reports of Bama being an underdog to Florida. Alabama is 12-0 and ranked first in the nation in virtually every poll. Florida is 11-1 and ranked as high as second (Associated Press) and as low as fourth (BCS rankings).

Alabama and Florida will meet in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game Saturday. Kickoff will be at 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. central time) with television coverage by CBS. The winner of the game is expected to move on to the BCS National Championship Game in Miami on Jan. 8. The loser will play in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 in New Orleans.

Despite Bama's better record and higher ranking, the Gators are universally considered the favorite in the game.

Smith said, "There has been a lot of media hype. I don't mind being the underdog. Florida has a great team. We've got to go out and execute."

Smith, a 6-5, 325-pound ("I've lost a little weight.") three-year starting junior, said he thinks he is better this year. "A lot better," he said. "I'm using better technique. I'm stronger. I sustain longer."

Smith said getting to play in the SEC Championship game "is a big accomplishment for us this season. It feels really good. It's giving us an opportunity to represent the (SEC) West in the championship."

It was no surprise that Smith and Florida's outstanding junior quarterback, Tim Tebow, met along the recruiting trail. Alabama, particularly, recruited both hard and according to Florida Coach Urban Meyere, Tebow came close to signing with Bama.

"We had a great relationship throughout the recruiting process," Smith said. "He's a great guy and has a great family. We could probably switch families and it would be fine. I don't blame him for picking Florida. He is right up the road from there. Coach Meyer is a great guy. The staff is great and they have a great program. He just chose what was best for him."

Smith also has good relations with other Florida junior stars, wide receiver Percy Harvin and linebacker Brandon Spikes.

Smith was asked about the improvement of the offensive line this year. "I think it's the leadership of Antione Caldwell and myself as far as making sure we do everything the correct way," Smith said. "We haven't changed anything. It's just a matter of growing up. Coach Saban demands the best out of us at all times."

It's getting to be the time of year when questions arise about underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft. Smith got one of those Monday and quickly deflected it. "I'm not thinking about that right now," he said. "I'm thinking one game at a time."

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