Alabama's offensive star appears to be at full strength and effectiveness. The same is definitely true for Arkansas, the first opponent in a rough three-week stretch of schedule for the nation's top-ranked team.
The Crimson Tide travel to Fayetteville to open their SEC schedule against unbeaten No. 10 Arkansas on Saturday.
Alabama (3-0) heads to Reynolds Razorback Stadium with a healthy Mark Ingram, who returned from injury last week and turned in a spectacular performance in a 62-13 victory over Duke last Saturday. He took his first carry 48 yards and finished with 151 yards and two touchdowns on just nine rushes, playing only the first half.
"Felt better than I did before I had the injury," Ingram said.
Trent Richardson added 61 yards on seven carries, while star defensive lineman Marcell Darius also returned and looked good in limited action.
Coach Nick Saban, however, wasted little time in reminding his team that the level of competition is about to get much better very quickly.
"It's what we make of it," Saban said following Saturday's game. "It's how we look at it. It's how we take the things we need to improve on and use them as stepping stones to improve, learn more with some of our younger players, what it takes to compete for 60 minutes in a game."
The Tide's early conference slate doesn't allow them to ease into SEC play. After Arkansas, Alabama hosts No. 9 Florida and travels to 12th-ranked South Carolina.
First up are the Razorbacks (3-0, 1-0), who are looking to build on a thrilling 31-24 win at Georgia last week. Ryan Mallett threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns, including a 40-yard scoring pass to Greg Childs with 15 seconds remaining that gave Arkansas the victory after it blew a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter.
It was yet another outstanding performance for Mallett, who has passed for 1,081 yards -- most in the country -- with nine touchdowns, two interceptions and a 70.0 completion percentage. He was named SEC player of the week.
Such a matchup is nothing new for Saban, who knows what his team faces on a yearly basis in its loaded conference.
"This is sort of a new season, when you start playing in the SEC," Saban said. "This is a very good football team. Coach Bobby Petrino has done a very good job there and their quarterback is obviously one of the leaders in the nation in passing and their defense is in the top 10 in a lot of different categories."
Saban's squad, though, had plenty of answers against Mallett and Arkansas last Sept. 26. The then-No. 3 Tide frustrated Mallett into a 12-for-35, 160-yard performance in a 35-7 rout at Tuscaloosa, Alabama's third straight win in the series and fourth in five matchups.
The Tide, who won 49-14 in the last meeting at Fayetteville on Sept. 20, 2008, are 10-8 all-time against Arkansas.
Petrino and the Razorbacks are excited for the chance to cut into that slim deficit Saturday.
"We know it's a big week this week, with Alabama coming in here. I think our players are excited about it, I know our coaches are," Petrino said. "We've got to make sure that we understand that we need to prepare like we did a week ago -- with focus every day in practice. ... and really understand as a football team, I really believe this, that we don't need to go out and do anything extraordinary to win the game. We need to go out and play Razorback football, and we'll have an opportunity to win the game."
One thing the Razorbacks will almost certainly have to do to win is slow down the powerful Alabama ground game -- something they were able to do last season, when they limited Ingram to 50 yards and a 2.9 per-carry average, and held the Tide to 134 rushing yards.
Alabama's Greg McElroy, though, took advantage of Arkansas' focus on stopping the run, throwing for 291 yards and three touchdowns.
The Razorbacks have lost four of five against Top 25 opponents.
Top 25 Overview
The defending national champions are back at full strength but hardly needed it against overmatched Duke. It'll likely be a different story Saturday in the Tide's SEC opener when they visit Arkansas, the first of three straight top-12 teams Bama will face. Razorbacks QB Ryan Mallett will be looking for redemption after a 160-yard effort last season versus the Tide. Bama has won three straight in the series.