The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide arrived Monday in Atlanta and practiced for Saturday's national semifinal against No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl.
Alabama is the only program to compete in the four-team playoff all three times since it replaced the BCS championship game following the 2013 football season, but Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban doesn't consider himself an expert on the format. For starters, can Saturday really be viewed as a bowl game as much as the next-to-last step to the sport's ultimate prize?facebook
"We're trying to create a balance for the players so that they can have the proper time to prepare to go play well and still have somewhat of an experience from a bowl game standpoint that would not be too intrusive as far as what we want to accomplish as a team," Saban said Monday in a Peach Bowl news conference.
The Crimson Tide have made at least a half a dozen trips to the Rose, Orange, Cotton and Sugar bowls throughout the years, but this is their first Peach Bowl journey. They are certainly no strangers to Atlanta, having won three consecutive Southeastern Conference title games and having won four Chick-fil-A Kickoff games since 2008.
Alabama's debut in the playoff era was not a good one, as the top-seeded Crimson Tide fell 42-35 to fourth-seeded Ohio State two seasons ago in the Sugar Bowl. Last season, the Tide routed Michigan State 38-0 in a Cotton Bowl semifinal and outlasted Clemson 45-40 in the national-title game 11 days later. The length between the semifinals and the championship game this time is nine days.
"In the playoffs, you're all in," Saban said. "You've got to go 1-0 every week, or you're out. The players have to understand that we have to do the very best job that we can to win this game. If we create an opportunity for ourselves to play another game, then we've got to refocus.
"What I've learned about this game: Is your mindset that this is a bowl game or a playoff game? Every player and every coach has to decide for himself, because we are trying to create a balance, because it is a playoff game."
While Alabama is hoping to produce two dominating playoff performances for the first time, Washington is the long shot in this year's field despite its 12-1 record and Pac-12 championship. The Huskies went a combined 15-12 while the Crimson Tide were in the first two playoffs, but third-year coach Chris Petersen doesn't want to treat this week any differently.
Washington suffered its lone loss on Nov. 12, falling 26-13 at home to Southern California, but the Huskies arrived in Atlanta following a 45-17 rout of in-state rival Washington State and a 41-10 thrashing of Colorado in the Pac-12 title game.
"We're kind of talking to them like we do anyways," Petersen said Monday. "When we travel to a road game, we always want them to enjoy and appreciate the moment. We want them to appreciate the different venues and the different hostile environments we go into. That's part of college football, and there is nothing like it.
"When you come here for a week and get all these cool events, we want them to appreciate that as well. I think there is plenty of time to do that and still stay focused on the task at hand, and I think our guys get that. It's how we've done business all along."
Saban said redshirt sophomore cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who missed the SEC title-game win over Florida, and junior left tackle Cam Robinson, who missed a practice last week, are fine for Saturday's game.... Saban on redshirt junior center Bradley Bozeman: "If you're going to have the unsung hero on the team, he would be the guy I would vote for. He had big shoes to fill (first-round NFL draft choice Ryan Kelly), and he did a fantastic job."
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