Alabama Football: Avoiding a Sugar Bowl hangover

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

We’ve all been there. It’s Christmas morning and you’re full of excitement because you’ve been hinting for weeks about the perfect gift. You pick up a beautifully wrapped package, gauge it’s size and weight, tear open the box and find…the Sugar Bowl. Utter disappointment ensues. Alabama football finds itself in the midst of its own Blue Christmas. The Tide narrowly missed out on a chance at the college football playoff, and now finds itself on a collision course with a motivated Kansas State team in New Orleans. Alabama’s been down this road before and will have to fight the urge not to sleepwalk or risk being run through by one of the best running attacks in the country. Luckily, the Tide has experience in games like this and will hopefully use its past as a template to avoid a New Year’s Eve disappointment this year.

2008 Sugar Bowl not so Sweet

The 2008 Alabama football team was an extremely talented group and provided the first real glimpse of what was to come under Nick Saban. After finishing a disappointing 6-6 in Saban’s first year, Alabama ran the table in the regular season behind a suffocating defense led by Rolando McClain. The year ended on a sour not when Alabama lost to eventual National Champion Florida in the SEC Championship game 31-20. What followed was a messy December where the Tide seemed focused on everything but their game against Utah in New Orleans. The general malaise culminated with star OT Andre Smith being suspended four days before the game for illegally contacting an NFL agent. The hangover followed Alabama into the game as the Tide fell behind 21-0 and never recovered.

Alabama Football sputters against the Sooners

This game really stung. Alabama lost out on a chance to play for a third straight BCS Championship game after “The play that shall not be named”, losing an absolute heartbreaker to Auburn 34-28. The consolation prize, another depressing visit to New Orleans against an Oklahoma team. Determined to prevent another Sugar Bowl let down, the Tide played much better but sloppy play led to a 45-31 loss to the Sooners. The Tide committed 4 turnovers and a defense that had only given up 11.3 points a game got boat raced by Trevor Knight who had been benched earlier in the season.

Avoiding another letdown

"Nick Saban prides himself as a master motivator and is often able to use messaging in the media in order to give his players the right mindset. That skillset was on display immediately in the aftermath of finding out the Tide had missed out on the playoff. Talking to ESPN Saban stated,“We’re obviously disappointed. We wanted to see our team have an opportunity to play and get into the playoffs. We’re going to get an opportunity to play someone somewhere in a good game. That’s going to be an opportunity for our players to create value for themselves and show what kind of team we really have.”"

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The last sentence is what’s really important and shows how Saban has adjusted to the NIL era. Viewed from the prism of an opportunity to improve a player’s draft stock or earn more playing time next season seems like the right messaging for today’s players. If the player’s take that mentality, and study their history books, Alabama has the potential to have a good showing in this year’s Sugar Bowl.