Alabama will play Florida for the Southeastern Conference Championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Saturday with kickoff at 4 p.m. EST (3 p.m. central time) and CBS televising the game. The Crimson Tide is 12-0 and ranked first in the nation. The Gators of Coach Jim McElwain (a former Bama offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Alabama Coach Nick Saban) are 8-3.
Alabama is champion of the SEC Western Division and playing for a third consecutive league title. This will be the second consecutive game against Florida, champions of the East.
This is also the 25th SEC Championship Game and the ninth to be played between Alabama and Florida (both teams having won four).
On Sunday, Saban participated in a teleconference regarding the game. Here is that report, beginning with Saban’s comments and followed by a question and answer segment.
COACH SABAN: This is a great venue we get an opportunity to play in. I'm really proud of our team for creating the opportunity to play in the SEC Championship game. It's a great competitive environment. It's one of the best in college football.
Playing against a great team, a great tradition in our league, in the University of Florida. A lot of history with these two teams playing in the SEC Championship game. This being the 25th SEC Championship game, I think it's like the ninth time or something that these two teams have met. To have [former Alabama Coach Gene Stallings and former Florida Coach Steve Spurrier, coaches of the first SEC Championship Game] be there for the coin toss makes it special.
I think Jim McElwain has done a fabulous job with his team there, have one of the best defenses in the country, play very well, very aggressive. Very good secondary, very good pass defense. Got some pass-rushers. Offensively they run the ball, got great balance in what they do. This is going to be a real challenge for us.
They've got explosive players in the kicking game in terms of punt returner, all that type of thing. We obviously got a lot of work to do this week. This is going to be a very challenging game for us.
Here are the questions and answers with Coach Saban Sunday:
Q. Nick, can you talk about Florida's defensive front. Any sort of film you've seen on them so far, what stands out and impresses you?
COACH SABAN: I just think they've got some really good players. They're very aggressive. They got a good scheme. They're well-coached. They got really good quickness. They can play with power, as well.
They got a lot of guys that are really play-maker types up front. They just do a really, really good job. I think their defense as a whole complements one another. The front is explosive, powerful, quick, can rush. The secondary can cover well. It's a tough combination to try to match up with.
Q. Obviously you recruited (Florida placekicker) Eddy Pineiro when he was at junior college. When he went through your camp over the summer, what did you see that stuck out and impressed you since he had never kicked in a game before?
[At one time Pineiro was committed to Alabama, but signed with Florida]
COACH SABAN: The guy had a fantastic leg, very explosive in the way he could kick the ball. He was very accurate. There was a little bit of risk in the fact he hadn't kicked a lot in games. But if you go on just what his potential and ability was, we felt like he was an outstanding prospect. He certainly had a great year for them.
Q. Coach (McElwain) said the odds are against (Florida quarterback) Luke Del Rio playing. But your memories of him when he was at Alabama.
[Del Rio started his career at Alabama as a walk-on quarterback.]
COACH SABAN: Well, Luke is a really smart quarterback that has really good talent, is a good athlete. We think he's a really good player. We have a lot of respect for him.
I think when he played early in the year, he played really, really well. I haven't seen all those games yet, and I don't know exactly what their situation is at quarterback. I can't really comment on it that much at this point.
Q. Having gone to this three times, and you have the playoff as well, how is preparation for this game when the playoff is ahead? Has it changed at all from when there wasn't a playoff or is it the same?
COACH SABAN: I don't know. When we played this game, whether it was a playoff, a chance to go to the championship game, whatever, I think, first of all, winning the SEC Championship is something that's really important to us, and we think a very, very significant accomplishment that we would have to beat a very, very good team to do it. That's kind of one of the goals that we have.
Whatever comes beyond that comes beyond that. But our focus needs to be on this game and what we need to do to play well in this game, try to win the SEC Championship, which is always a real challenge in and of itself, especially playing against a very good Florida team.
Q. Coach, where in particular have you seen growth from [Tide tailback] Bo Scarbrough during the course of the year and what did you see from him yesterday [Scarbrough had a game-high 17 rushes for 90 yards in Bama’s 30-12 win over Auburn]?
COACH SABAN: I think Bo played really, really well yesterday. Bo has made great improvement, played very well at LSU. He got hurt at LSU. Missed a couple weeks. We thought he was really coming into his own. Really a confident guy that was playing with a lot of explosive power. He was comfortable and confident in what he was doing.
He had a little setback, missed a couple weeks. I felt like when he played last night, he played really, really well for us. Hopefully we'll be able to continue to get that kind of production out of him and performance because he's a guy we have a lot of confidence in, gives us a little different type of runner than the other two guys that play.
Q. Nick, you touched on this being the 25th SEC title game, and the ninth Alabama-Florida. Why do you think this matchup has occurred so commonly in this game?
COACH SABAN: I think both programs have great tradition. They certainly have tremendous tradition and lots of success at the University of Florida. They've been probably one of the more dominant teams in the East.
Through the years, Alabama has pretty significant tradition, too. We feel fortunate that our team has been able to do the things that they need to do this particular year to get in the game.
I can't really, other than the traditions of successful programs, comment beyond that.
Q. You were coaching in the NFL in the early '90s. Your thoughts when you first learned that the SEC had created a conference championship game, what your thoughts were about that?
COACH SABAN: I think it's outstanding. It's a great competitive venue. My experience in the game, whether it was at LSU or here at Alabama, the only better competitive venue I've ever played in is the national championship game.
I would say, based on my experience, whatever I thought in 1991, which I can't even remember what I was doing then, I think it's been a real positive for fans and for our league, for the players who get to participate in the game. I think it's fantastic.
Q. Coach, we certainly know about the history of Coach McElwain on your staff from '08 to '11. I'm wondering if he was as easygoing as he was on your staff. What do you remember most about him being on your staff?
COACH SABAN: Jim did a fantastic job for us. He had great relationships with the players. He worked really well with the staff. He's a good football coach in every way, not only in being creative in how to attack a defense, but also in teaching the players how to do it.
I think Mac was a great personality, got along well with everybody. I think you see a lot of that in him. But he's also a very competitive, very serious guy that does a great job in preparing our team here for what they had to play against. Just did an outstanding job for us in every way.
I think he's one of the most likable guys we've ever had on our staff and obviously one of the best coaches.
Q. In terms of going undefeated, it's something you've done one time in '09. How hard is it to go undefeated throughout a season?
COACH SABAN: I think we look at it like one game at a time, try to go 1-0 every week. But really, based on where we are right now, the legacy of this team and this season is based on what's in front of us.
Can't really fall in love with what we've done in the past. We're looking forward to a great challenge in this game, the SEC Championship, versus Florida.
Q. What intrigued you about [new Alabama offensive line coach] Brent Key, adding him to your staff?
COACH SABAN: Brent was we thought an outstanding young coach that we had known in the past, interviewed before. I was looking to add to how we could develop our offensive linemen a little bit. To add another offensive line coach to our staff I thought would be very beneficial. I think that's worked out very well for us. He's done an outstanding job, has been a real positive addition to our staff.
Q. Offensively what are the few things you think you need to do to clean up the minor issues, things that are going wrong?
COACH SABAN: We watch the film, we try to make a list of the things that we did well, the things we need to get corrected. Those things we'll try to walk through and show the players on film, hopefully be able to do it a little bit better next time. It's certainly what we try to do each and every week.
It really comes down to execution. It's our responsibility to help the players get to the point where they get the repetitions that they need so they can execute. That's certainly going to be our focus.
Q. What are some of the issues you think on that list right now?
COACH SABAN: I think that's our list of things we want to do. I'm not really interested in sharing it with anybody else or being critical of anything or anybody.
Q. Coach, you alluded to this a little bit earlier. You've been through this 15-game season several times now. How do you prepare your players physically and mentally for the long season? When does that preparation begin?
COACH SABAN: We changed our approach last year in terms of starting to cut down practices a little bit earlier in the season, giving the players days off when we could before certain games.
We use a Catapult system here, and we sort of try to continue to evaluate where our players are relative to their explosive movements, making sure we don't get them too wore out.
So we've changed our approach a little bit from beginning to end. We probably condition a little less, trying to save our players throughout the year.
I don't know the formula exactly, but I know that if we can look at our Catapult system and make sure our players are not going down in terms of what they're able to do, then we're sort of at least maintaining what we need to maintain to be able to be competitive.
Q. Obvious question, I guess. How important is depth in these situations?
COACH SABAN: Oh, it's critical. I mean, it's critical. I think it's always a concern, do you have enough depth to sustain the season. When you get a lot of injuries, or you get injuries at certain positions, how does that affect your ability to move forward. That's a concern for all of us. I think that's something we all have to deal with at this time of year.
Q. Coach, can you talk about the familiarity you have walking into that Georgia Dome, you've been there so many times?
COACH SABAN: Obviously if you've played someplace before, you feel a little bit more comfortable when you get there. I don't think it matters too much how I feel. I think it matters a lot how our players feel. We do have a few players that have been there before. Hopefully the fact that they've been in this game before will help them have the right psychological disposition to be able to compete well in the game, keep the right sort of balance between emotion and anxiety and intensity to be able to sustain.
You never know for sure, but that's at least what we're hopeful of.
Q. You talked about how great a venue it is. When you first walk in there, it's got to feel pretty good all the good things that have happened to you in there.
COACH SABAN: But it's only going to feel good if we make something else good happen in there because it's all about this team.
Again, we don't look back much. We're trying to look forward. For the hard work this team's done, the opportunity they've created for themselves to get where they are, as a coach you want to do the best you can to help them have success. The rest of it really doesn't matter.
Q. Coach, the West's kind of dominance over the East has coincided with your success. It's been more than Alabama. What do you think a couple of the factors have been in that?
COACH SABAN: Look, we have a good conference from top to bottom. We have a lot of good teams from top to bottom in both East and West. I think that sometimes the balance of power shifts a little bit. Maybe one side has a few more good teams than the other.
I think if you look at it as a total body of work over the years, the East has been as dominant or more dominant than the West. We have a lot of respect for the teams we have to play in the East. We certainly have a lot of respect for the Florida team we have to play in the championship game.
I think there're a lot of good teams in the SEC, period. I don't really evaluate one side versus the other.
Q. Jim McElwain says he feels like the commitment, institutional commitment in the last half dozen years or so, has been maybe larger on the West side. Have you noticed that? Do you see anything like that from outside your program?
COACH SABAN: Not really. I don't really spend a lot of time with what other people are doing. I'm trying to get it right here, which is sometimes more than I'm capable of. We're trying to do the best we can for the guys that we have here. I don't really spend a lot of time evaluating what other people do.
Q. I was wondering what you remember from Jonathan Allen's recruitment, what kind of player you've seen him develop into.
COACH SABAN: Jonathan Allen is a fantastic player for us, even a better person, leader. He's had an outstanding year this year. I think he's sort of someone that a lot of players should look at who came here weighing probably 250 pounds. We kind of recruited him as an outside linebacker. The guy has developed each and every year into being a better and better and better player.
I think sometimes a lot of players lose sight of how football is a developmental game, how they improve, how they can improve their value by continuing to grow and develop as players in college. Jonathan Allen is a great example of that.
Q. Ryan Anderson mentioned the fact that [new Alabama defensive coordinator] Jeremy Pruitt has simplified the defense to a point that it allows the players to play faster. How has he been able to do that this year?
COACH SABAN: I think that we're playing the same system. I think the one thing that we've done is we've repped the things that we're going to play in the games, sort of pared it down a little bit.
I think our players are a little bit more confident in what they're supposed to do, the adjustments they need to make. I think they've played well because of that.
It's interesting to hear that the players think that, as well. It's good to know.
Q. I wanted to ask you about yesterday, [Alabama cornerback who left the Auburn game with injury] Marlon Humphrey, updating his status. Also I know you're big on next man up. Talk about Levi Wallace and the job he did yesterday, him being a former walk-on who earned a scholarship.
COACH SABAN: Levi did a good job for us yesterday. He's been in the program for a long time, really understands what to do and how to do it. He's done really well for us this year and been a really good backup and contributed on special teams.
I can't tell you what Marlon Humphrey's status is right now. I haven't even been able to talk to a trainer yet today. We have a meeting after this call. We're hopeful. I don't think he has a bad injury. We'll have to see how he progresses through the course of the week.
Q. Nick, this season what has been your evaluation of how [Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin] has called games, play calling in particular, and the adjustments made at halftime? Seems like there are a lot of games you go into halftime making pretty significant adjustments.
COACH SABAN: Lane has done a good job for us. I'm pleased with what he has done. I think our staff does a really good job of making halftime adjustments. I certainly think we've done that this year.
I think that with having a freshman quarterback [Jalen Hurts], trying to make sure that we're doing things that he feels comfortable with, and to help him develop and grow through the years so he can play with efficiency and effectiveness has been a challenge that we've handled, or Lane has handled, really well.
I'm not at all disappointed in any way with what we've done and how we've done it. We're just going to try to improve on it, which I'm sure is his goal, and our goal as well.
Q. There have been some various reports about other programs showing interest in Lane as an offensive coordinator. Do you have any reaction to some of that?
COACH SABAN: I know nothing about it, first of all, so I don't think I should comment on things I don't know anything about. He's never mentioned it to me. I'm sure he would if there was something out there.
Q. In terms of identity, what kind of team do you think you have that has given you their identity through the first 12 games?
COACH SABAN: We're constantly working on trying to create an identity as a team. I think we want to be a physical, aggressive team that goes out and executes well and can do it for 60 minutes in a game. I think at times this year our team has done it extremely well, and at other times we all wish we could do it a little better.
I think identity is something that you continue to work on, and that's something that I'm hopeful that our players will continue to do this week in the SEC Championship game.
Q. In terms of impact on the defensive line, Dalvin Tomlinson and Joshua Frazier, I'm wondering what you have seen out of both of those players down the stretch.
COACH SABAN: Dalvin has played for us all year long and done an outstanding job. I think he's been very, very productive, is a very responsible guy that you can certainly depend on to do exactly what you want him to do and do it well with his ability.
Josh Frazier has done a nice job as a backup and played better and better as the year's gone on. So we're pleased with his contribution.
Q. Could you have imagined that the defense had a run like they had this month in limiting offenses the way they have?
(The Alabama defense has not surrendered a touchdown since the Texas A&M game on Oct. 22.)
COACH SABAN: I don't really look at things that way. We try to take the players we have and try to put them in the best position that they have a chance to be successful in, regardless of who we're playing.
I think this group of players have been very competitive all year long. They've shown a lot of resolve and maturity in how they've prepared for games and practiced, tried to understand what the other team wants to do, try to do the things we need to do to stop it.
You never know what the results are going to be, but we have lots of areas that we can improve in, no doubt. Those are certainly the things that we want to stay focused on.
Q. [Freshman quarterback] Jalen Hurts, what has been the most impressive part of his game that you've seen this year?
COACH SABAN: Jalen, to be able to go through what he's gone through this year in terms of his development, his ability to be resilient, not get really upset when he has a bad play or something bad happens. He really has a resiliency just to come back and focus on the next play and try to learn from that mistake, doesn't get affected by things.
I think that's been a real key for him being able to be a young player that doesn't have a lot of knowledge, experience, and he's showing a lot of maturity in being able to handle and manage a lot of those situations in a lot of difficult places to play throughout this year.