Alabama-Ole Miss game could produce the Heisman Trophy favorite

Crimson Tide photos / In just the fifth start of his Alabama career, sophomore quarterback Bryce Young finds himself in a potential Heisman Trophy showdown this Saturday when the top-ranked Crimson Tide host Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral and the No. 12 Rebels.

Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, Iowa State running back Breece Hall and North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell play on two-loss teams that are disappearing or already have disappeared from relevance this college football season.

Oklahoma's Spencer Rattler has quarterbacked the Sooners to a 4-0 start, but they've been so unimpressive out of the gate that Associated Press poll voters have dropped them from No. 2 in the country to No. 6.

As the sport's calendar flips to October, the two betting favorites for this season's Heisman Trophy are Ole Miss redshirt junior quarterback Matt Corral and Alabama sophomore quarterback Bryce Young, who will share the stage this Saturday afternoon when the top-ranked Crimson Tide (4-0) welcome the No. 12 Rebels (3-0) to Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game will be televised by CBS with a kickoff shortly after 3:30.

"For me, I'm really just watching their defensive film and focusing on what we have to do offensively," Young said on a Zoom call when asked about the quarterback showdown. "That's really kind of how I'm approaching it. It's an external factor you can't really control as far as what the other offense runs or who's on the other side offensively.

"All I'm really looking at is their defense and preparing so we can execute like we like to."

Young will enter Saturday having completed 88 of 122 attempts (72.1%) for 1,124 yards with 15 touchdowns and an interception that hit receiver Jameson Williams in the chest during last Saturday night's 63-14 thrashing of Southern Miss. The 6-foot, 194-pounder was 20-of-22 (90.9%) against the Golden Eagles, and his 15 aerial scores are more than Mac Jones (13), Tua Tagovailoa (12) and Jalen Hurts (five) had through their first four starts with the Crimson Tide.

Alabama has racked up at least 30 points in 30 consecutive games, and matching the NCAA mark of 31 set by UCF during the 2017-19 seasons certainly seems possible given Young's steadying play.

"He's got it together," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "He does the right things off the field, and he's very well-grounded as a person. He makes good choices and decisions in everything that he does, and I think that's just who he is. It's an asset for a guy who has his level of experience to have that demeanor, because he doesn't get frustrated."

Said Ole Miss counterpart Lane Kiffin: "You could see last week that he had numbers that are hard to do on air when you're going against nobody."

A big key for Young this week will be navigating a vastly improved Ole Miss defense that will drop as many as eight defenders. Saban said Alabama saw a little bit of that against Mercer and that developing a good plan this week will be paramount.

It will also be important for Alabama to somehow try and slow Corral, who has completed 66 of 96 passes (68.8%) for 997 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. Kiffin said that keeping Corral's interception tally at zero is a big objective, noting that Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel (2012 season), Auburn's Nick Marshall (2013), Ole Miss's Bo Wallace (2014) and Chad Kelly (2015), Clemson's Deshaun Watson (2016), Auburn's Jarrett Stidham (2017), Clemson's Trevor Lawrence (2018) and Auburn's Bo Nix (2019) had interception-free games during wins over Alabama within the past decade.

"He played really well against us last year," Saban said, referencing last season's 63-48 track meet in Oxford won by the Tide. "The guy is really elusive and can extend plays, and he's also a very accurate passer who executes their offense extremely well. He does pull the ball in every now and then, and it's just enough to make you defend it on defense.

"They are difficult to defend, and he is about as talented a guy we've seen - run and pass - in a long time."

Kiffin has framed Saturday as the fourth round of a 12-round heavyweight fight, and he is having none of the conversation surrounding this quarterback matchup.

"Talking about Heisman Trophies is ridiculous at this stage of the year," he said.

Yet Kiffin knows all about grabbing attention dating back to his debut Southeastern Conference season with Tennessee in 2009 and that being in the spotlight, whether things become too hyped or not, is much better than wandering in a wasteland.

"Heisman media talk now means nothing, but there is something to that about energy," he said. "When you go on the road recruiting and nationally everyone knows who Matt is and has watched us - I feel like they know our team more than probably in a long time here. There is a lot of energy around, but that can die out real quick if you don't keep playing well."

The 6-2, 205-pound Corral and Young are both California kids - Corral from Ventura and Young from Pasadena - who have talked and worked together in the past. While Corral plays for Kiffin, Young works in an offensive system that Kiffin overhauled back in 2014, when he served as offensive coordinator for the first of three seasons in Tuscaloosa.

"I've heard a lot of positive things about the stuff that he brought while he was here and what he contributed to the offense," Young said. "I'm really happy with the way our offense is now and the schematics of it."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.