What's different about A.J. McCarron this year?
The junior quarterback's stat line through seven victories this season reads 106-of-154 for 1,476 yards and 16 touchdowns without an interception in his last 239 attempts, he leads the nation in pass efficiency with a 183.6 rating, and his name is becoming a regular in the coveted Heisman Trophy discussion.
But what is different about him this year? He was good last year, too. In his first year as a starter he was named MVP of the national championship game, but didn't get the frequent recognition he's been getting over the past couple months.
"I thought AJ played really well last year," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban on the SEC Coaches Teleconference Wednesday morning. "It was just unnoticed with some of the other players that we had."
Saban said he has seen some bigger changes in his quarterback this season though.
"He's a much more confident guy, a much more mature guy," he said. "He has to assume a different role from a leadership standpoint on our team. He's done a good job of executing at his position."
Schedule? What schedule?
Last week the SEC released the 2013 conference schedule. Alabama, who many say has an easy route to Miami this year with its weak lineup, will once again get by without playing Eastern foes Florida, Georgia or South Carolina in the regular season. The Tide will face Kentucky and Tennessee though.
Saban was asked his opinion on the Crimson Tide's seemingly soft schedule.
"I don't care what they say," he said. "To be honest with you, I haven't even looked at it. I'm not really worried about it. I'm worried we've got a game this week. I'm trying to get our team ready for that. And I think we've got a game after that I'm going to be focused on, so next year's schedule we'll look at next year."
Championship game prep
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen has noticed his players pick up the intensity this week.
On his teleconference call, he told reporters the Bulldogs see this weekend's date with No. 1 Alabama as a "championship-caliber game."
"They're watching a little extra film, their intensity within the preparation is really picking up this week," Mullen said. "Our guys understand that this is a big game."
Earlier this week Saban praised MSU's offensive line. For the Bulldogs, going up against Alabama's defense will provide a challenge for LaDarius Perkins and the running game. Alabama's rush defense is No. 1 in the country, holding opponents to 58.7 yards per game, after all.
"I don't know anybody that's really run the ball against them in the last couple of years," Mullen said. "I think our guys are certainly up to the challenge and playing a big game. These are games that all these guys, this is why they came to Mississippi State. To come and play in these big-time games."
For more Alabama coverage, follow Laken Litman on Twitter!