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Tide's Hall rising to top of SEC receiver list

Don't bother asking DJ Hall.

Alabama's record-setting receiver doesn't have any answers, which is apropos because Southeastern Conference defenses haven't had many answers for him this season.

When the preseason All-SEC teams were released this summer, Hall's name was nowhere to be found. It wasn't just the media spurning him, either. He didn't even warrant third-team consideration from the league coaches, who selected six receivers in front of him.

Is there a more underrated player in the SEC, and for that matter, the entire country?

The guy throwing him the ball doesn't think so.

"I wouldn't trade him for anybody," Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "You see all these other guys on TV every week getting blown up and wonder where DJ is. Look at his numbers. Look at his consistency. It's right there for everybody to see."

Hall has already broken virtually every Alabama receiving record and is on pace to become the SEC's all-time leader in receiving yardage. He's currently 10th on that list with 2,682 yards. The record is 3,093 yards, held by Georgia's Terrence Edwards from 1999-2002.

With at least five games remaining, including a bowl game, Hall would eclipse Edwards' record if he stays within 10 yards of his SEC-leading 95.5 yards per game. Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett, only a junior, is right on Hall's heels with 2,661 career yards.

Given the way Hall has fleeced opposing secondaries lately, it's a chase that will be well worth watching. In his last two games, Hall has 24 catches for 325 yards. No other Alabama receiver has that many yards all season.

So why no love coming into the season?

"I'm not sure what it comes from," said Hall, who's caught 50 passes this season for 764 yards and five touchdowns. "A lot of the guys keep telling me that I'm not getting the respect I deserve and that I'm way better than some of the guys you keep hearing about. The way I look at it is that preseason is all hype anyway.

"It's what you do on the field that counts."

Hall is proud of his numbers, and he's equally proud of the chemistry he and Wilson have developed in a passing game that appears to be jelling at just the right time. But he also knows the challenge that awaits Saturday against an LSU defense that will easily be the stiffest the Crimson Tide has faced all season. The Tigers are ranked second nationally in total defense (232.2 yards per game) and have allowed just 15 touchdowns in eight games -- five of those coming in a 43-37 triple-overtime loss to Kentucky.

"These are the games you come to Alabama for," Hall said. "There's no hiding in these kind of games. We all know what's at stake."

In this case, a commanding lead in the Western Division race and a clear path to the SEC championship game.

It's what the Bama Nation dreamed of the day Nick Saban was hired. It's also what steered Hall back to Alabama when he realized Saban would be his coach for his senior season.

As a junior, Hall set the Alabama single-season receiving record with 1,056 yards. But the Crimson Tide stumbled down the stretch, losing four of their last five games, and Mike Shula lost his job. Hall was ready to move on and had his sights set on the NFL.

"I was getting so much feedback from people telling me what to do, and the whole thing with Coach Shula getting fired didn't make it any better," Hall recounted. "I was like, 'I ain't going through another system with all these changes,' but then I found out who the coach was going to be."

Hall, a Fort Walton Beach, Fla., product, knew plenty about Saban. He nearly went to LSU out of high school after Saban guided the Tigers to a national championship in 2003.

"If it had been anybody else but Coach Saban [taking over at Alabama], I'd say I was probably gone," Hall said. "But I just had so much respect for him and wanted to play for him. I knew what he was about. I knew what he would do with this program."

Hall also knew it would be a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation for the returning players, no matter what happened this season.

If Alabama wallowed in mediocrity again, then the spin was going to be that Saban simply didn't have the talent and needed time to restock the program. But if the Crimson Tide did manage to contend for a title, then Saban -- with his dictatorial persona and $4 million a year price tag -- would be the one getting all of the credit.

"You could sort of see it coming," Hall said. "I felt like we had great talent coming back this year. We were just anxious to show what we were capable of doing. Coach Saban came in and gave us that extra something we needed as a team.

"The main thing is that he's gotten guys to buy into his way of doing things. It's the only way if you're going to play for him. But his way wins championships, and that's the way we want to go out. We don't care who gets the credit."

Saban thinks Hall has become more of a technician at receiver this season with the way he uses his hands and his body to separate from the defender. Alabama offensive coordinator Major Applewhite has also been pretty creative with the way he's moved Hall around and generated favorable mismatches.

"In a lot of our spread formations, he's our inside receiver and usually you're not getting your best guy to cover him there," Saban explained.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Hall is also one of those guys who just always seems to be open. He's smart enough to find soft spots in the zone, clever enough to slow down at just the right time to make adjustments on the ball and has the speed to run by defenders and the size and athletic ability to go up and get it.

"It's one thing to run the right routes, but it's another to get open," said Wilson, who's coming off a career-best 363-yard passing performance in Alabama's 41-17 rout of Tennessee two weeks ago. "I know where DJ's going to be. We'll come off the field and I'll go over to him and tell him what I'm seeing, and he knows before I even say it.

"That's special when you have that kind of feel for each other."

The truth is that Hall might have pocketed a few more accolades at Alabama if the defensive backs trying to cover him were the ones doing the voting. Tennessee safety Jonathan Hefney has gone up against Hall each of the past four years and can't think of a more complete receiver in the SEC.

"They move him around a lot, throw to him a lot, and he catches everything," said Hefney, who was on the wrong end of Hall's 13-catch, 185-yard performance against the Vols.

"I don't remember him dropping anything when we've played against him. You can lock down on him, and he's still going to come down with it. He's really good in traffic and not afraid to go over the middle. We've played against a lot of good receivers, but he's up there with anybody we've faced."

Hall, whose quiet confidence has been known to incite some pretty lively trash-talking sessions on the field, wouldn't argue with Hefney.

"There are a lot of talented receivers playing right now, guys all over the country," Hall said. "But when you think about the competition level we play and how teams circle my name and say we're going to shut him down no matter what it takes, I really don't see any other player getting that kind of treatment and still having the games I do."

So, yeah, Hall would like a little more respect.

But he'd like a ring even more.

Chris Low is a college football writer for ESPN.com.