Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione expressed his pleasure at the accomplishments of the players. Then, jokingly, he said, "I've given them until 2:30 to celebrate." That's when the Tide went back to work in full gear preparing for the Independence Bowl.
Alabama will play Iowa State in this year's Independence Bowl in Shreveport. The game will kick off at 6:30 p.m. CST Thursday, December 27. ESPN will televise the game.
Prior to Bama's practice, Franchione held a routine press briefing to discuss the progress of his squad and give his impressions of Iowa State.
He also discussed the status of a handful of Bama players, some of whom were not named.
Franchione said that quarterback Tyler Watts might be available for duty against Iowa State. Watts started the first nine games of the year before suffering a groin injury. He has not played since the opening moments of the Mississippi State game. Zow, who had played only briefly in the early part of the season, led Bama to victories over Mississippi State, Auburn and Southern Miss to close out regular season play. "Both quarterbacks are practicing and getting rep[itition]s," Franchione said. "I think Tyler will be ready. I want him to do enough to learn the game plan, but not push it." The coach had noted that he doesn't want Watts to work too hard out of a concern that he might exacerbate the injury. He said Watts would test it when the team reaches Shreveport. "Andrew is working with the first team and Jonathan Richey is also getting reps," Franchione said.
The Tide coach said that tailback Santonio Beard, who was suspended for the Southern Miss game after being arrested and charged with driving under the influence, "is very close to completing his disciplinary action." He said Beard's disciplinary schedule had slowed during last week's finals, but that he expected the sophomore to be back in good graces by the completion of practice Wednesday morning, when the Tide will break camp in Tuscaloosa.
Although he did not name any players in academic trouble, Franchione said, "We are concerned about a handful of guys academically." A Southeastern Conference rule mandates that any player who does not pass six hours in the fall semester will not be eligible for post-season play. Some grades may not be posted for another couple of days, delaying Franchione's specific knowledge. He did say he was concerned about "three or four" on the two-deep depth chart, including perhaps one starter.
Alabama will practice in Tuscaloosa through Wednesday morning, then players will reassemble in Shreveport Saturday afternoon. Bama will have four practices in Shreveport, Sunday through Wednesday, which equates to a normal practice week. The team will have a Christmas eve dinner and gift-exchange party the night of December 24, an early practice on Christmas, and Christmas dinner on December 25.
Incredibly, Franchione also had to discuss his own status again Monday. A television reporter asked the first question of the day and it was in regard to the opening at Notre Dame. Franchione fell back in mock disbelief and reiterated his much-repeated promise to remain at Alabama. He is just beginning the second year of a seven-year contract.
Franchione called Iowa State "a good football team," as evidenced by the Cyclones having won nine games in 2000 and seven games this year while playing in the rugged Big 12 Conference. Franchione had praise for Iowa State Coach Dan McCarney, quarterback Seneca Wallace, and tailback Ennis Haywood. He said Iowa State has "a solid offensive line, they don't turn the ball over–they only have two fumbles lost–and they play good, solid aggressive defense. They are solid in the kicking game."
The Tide coach said that Iowa State resembles Southeastern Conference members Mississippi State and South Carolina owing to the athleticism of the personnel and the style of play.
Franchione believes that his team has "a purpose" to win the football game, and he knows there will be benefits from a victory that would give Alabama four consecutive wins to end the season and a 7-5 mark after last year's 3-8 record. He said, "We're not going to let [losing] this game ruin what we have started. But if we win, it can be a nice springboard into next season." He also thinks it would be good for the seniors, who, he said, "have been through a lot."
While a win might be good for the seniors, Franchione said the practice time is "very valuable" for young players, notably redshirt freshman quarterbacks Brodie Croyle and Spencer Pennington. The Tide head coach said that whatever bowl Bama had been selected for and whoever the opponent might have been were "not as significant" as the opportunity to continue practice. He noted that Bama is practicing for about an hour and a half with the full squad, then having 30 to 40 minutes with the staff working with those players who have seen little or no game action. "That helps us build our foundation for them before we get into spring practice," Franchione said. He said, "They are getting a lot of coaching." And whereas those players are ordinarily on the scout team, running the schemes of upcoming opponents, in the specialized work available during bowl practice the young players are working on Alabama schemes. He noted that Croyle and Pennington "are being asked to make full-speed decisions," and added, "I've been very pleased with what's happening."
Franchione said that his team had benefitted from the emphasis now placed on strength and conditioning. He noted that the team didn't have many injuries, which is attributed in part to good strength. And, he said, "we played our strongest and best football at the end of the season." He said the players noticed the benefits. "We made great strides, but we've still got a lot to do," he said. Players continue to lift weights even during practice periods.
In addition to the current Bama players going through commencement exercises Monday, former players Chauvon McFadden, Tripp Powell and Stanley Jackson were graduated.