Saban Coaching Against Former Team

It's not lost on anyone that the Capital One Bowl has put together a match of familiarities. Alabama has never played Michigan State, but Tide Coach Nick Saban once coached there and the Spartans head coach, Mark Dantonio, was an assistant for Saban there.

Nick Saban was in Birmingham for the Alabama senior banquet Sunday evening, but spoke on a conference call regarding Bama's invitation to play in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando against Michigan State on January 1.

Will Saban have emotions in playing against Michigan State?

"I'm sure they'll have some for me," he said. Saban left Michigan State prior to the 2000 season to coach at LSU.

Saban said, "Michigan State is a great place. We coached there 10 years and have some wonderful relationships there. George Perles (former Michigan State coach) gave me my first opportunity there.

"Mark Dantonio, their head coach, worked for me for five years. So we have a lot of fiends there.

"But you can be friends and still compete."

Alabama, 9-3 overall and 5-3 in Southeastern Conference play, will take on Michigan State, 11-1 and one of three co-champions of the Big Ten, at noon CST January 1 at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Alabama is ranked 15th, Michigan State seventh. Although it will be Bama's first Capital One Bowl, but Saban coached the 2004 LSU team against Iowa in the game and called it "a wonderful experience."

Michigan State will be the home team in the game.

Alabama is expected to begin practice December 16 and work until December 22. Players will convene in Orlando on Christmas night.

Saban said he was pleased at the opportunity to play in the game, pointing out that he does not believe the Crimson Tide has played its best game this season. "We're pleased and happy for the opportunity to compete in the game," he said. "We're looking forward to the challenge."

Saban said, "I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this season. Having a dominant program is not something you inherit, it's something you earn. We didn't play as a dominant team for 60 minutes in some games, and that affected the outcome. Hopefully we learned that we have to play our best all the time."

One of the most interesting aspects of the game is that it pits Saban against Dantonio, who was his assistant at Michigan State in the late 1990s. During the 2010 season, one of the biggest national stories was Dantonio suffering a heart attack following his team's win over Notre Dame. He missed two games, one following the heart attack and one when he had a blood clot develop.

Saban said he last talked to Dantonio "when he had his little health issue. We're good friends. He did a marvelous job for us. He has a wonderful family. He spoke at our coaching clinic. He's a wonderful friend. The last time I spoke to him was when he was in the hospital having that health issue."

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