Alabama's football team practiced for two hours Tuesday, its first workout since the stirring 32-28 win over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Dec. 1.
The No. 2 Crimson Tide will hold five workouts before Christmas in the first stage of preparation for the Jan. 7 BCS championship matchup with No. 1 Notre Dame.
"Everything under the sun has a price," Tide coach Nick Saban said, "and we need to pay the price right now to play our best football in the game coming up."
Alabama focused on the basics and did so without All-America senior center Barrett Jones, who has a cast on his left foot stemming from an SEC title-game injury. Saban said Jones can do some conditioning but does not need to practice until the team returns to Tuscaloosa after Christmas.
Junior receiver Kenny Bell, who broke his leg in the 49-0 rout of Auburn on Nov. 24, has been cleared to participate in portions of practice, but Saban said it's way too early to determine whether he will play against the Irish.
In the 17 days between the SEC championship win and Tuesday's start of bowl practice, there have been no shortage of rumors about Saban returning to coach in the NFL. Saban said "it most certainly is" when asked if coaching in college is as enjoyable and rewarding for him as it used to be.
"This is what we're happy doing," Saban said. "This is what we like to do, but nobody really believes that. So, you know, maybe it doesn't matter.
"I don't know what I have to say or do, but it's kind of funny to me."
Junior quarterback AJ McCarron announced he would return for his senior season during Alabama's recent down time, but Saban doesn't believe other Tide juniors will announce future plans before the game in Miami. Alabama had four players named to the NCAA's Consensus All-America team -- Jones, senior guard Chance Warmack, junior linebacker C.J. Mosley and junior cornerback Dee Milliner -- giving the Crimson Tide 16 in the last five seasons.
That's nine more than any other team nationally in the same stretch.
Alabama continues to be a decided favorite against the Irish, with the Tide favored by 10 points as of Tuesday evening. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly doesn't believe he'll use the underdog role for motivation, which worked for Texas against Southern Cal after the 2005 season and Florida against Ohio State a year later but hasn't been successful since.
"I've used that technique before in my time as a head coach, but I don't know if that's pertinent because this is a one-game deal," Kelly said. "It's all or nothing. Both teams have different dynamics to deal with a long layoff, and preparation is more important than any kind of fire and brimstone speech I can bring them.
"The preparation is really where this is going to be at, and getting your football team to be at its peak on January 7th."