"Being here means a lot. We missed the post-season last year, winding up with a 3-8 record. The opportunity to get a seventh victory, to go for four straight wins, to work extra with our younger players--it's a reward for our players. To repay them for playing together and believing in each other."
The Tide's bowl opponent will the Iowa State Cyclones out of the Big 12 Conference, sporting a 7-4 record. Alabama's record stands at 6-5. The game will be played in Shreveport, Louisiana's Independence Stadium, December 27th at 6:30 pm. ESPN will provide television coverage.
Hitting on the right mix of fun and hard work can make bowl games difficult, but Franchione has been successful in the past. "I think the key is to have good practices," he explained. "We have tried to convey to our players that when it's time to focus on practice and work hard, then that's what we do. When it's time to enjoy the activities, we do that. We certainly want our guys to have fun on this trip, but we never want to lose sight of why we're here."
Alabama practiced for the first time in Shreveport Sunday, working in full pads on the artificial turf at Independence Stadium. "I thought today was good," Franchione said. "The defense was particularly quick. I don't know whether it was the artificial surface or just having fresh legs, but I thought they flew around well. They looked very sharp at times.
"Offensively I think you could tell the lag of about four or five days of not working. We just need every day to get back in rhythm and get sharp. It wasn't bad, but a little rough around the edges. We need to get back in our normal rhythm of practice."
After suffering a serious groin injury a month ago versus Mississippi State, quarterback Tyler Watts tested his torn muscle, during Sunday's session. "I thought he did well. Very well," Franchione said. "I asked him during practice how he felt and he said it felt pretty good. He moved well. I saw no signs of any limitations. That was very encouraging."
Franchione will not announce his starting quarterback before Thursday's game. In Watts' absence, senior Andrew Zow led the Tide to three victories at the end of the season.
On other personnel matters, Alabama will be without the services of backup fullback Marvin Brown who is academically ineligible for the game. And former starter Santonio Beard, suspended following an arrest for DUI, will return to action at tailback. "Ahmaad Galloway will start (at tailback), depending on the formation we're in," Franchione said. "From there Santonio will split time with him. Nick Signaigo would be our back-up fullback."
Beard has not seen action since the Auburn game on November 17th. "I think Santonio will be ready to play and be very excited about playing the game," Franchione said. "It may take him a little while to get back into his rhythm, but maybe not. You'd hope that missing one game would not be a set back for him. He was relatively new in our offense, but I don't think going into the game it will be a problem. He's had good practices. He's playing with a lot of confidence.
"I noticed today he took some time to talk about the little things on the field with the coaches, which is impressive. I think he has every chance to play very well."
Second-string offensive tackle Dante Ellington will also miss the bowl game due to academic problems. Franchione commented; "It doesn't change the rotation of our offensive line a great deal. Obviously Dante would have played and gotten some snaps. There will be some guys that will probably play a little bit more behind him. I don't see that as being a major factor."
Despite being located in the Deep South, last season's Independence Bowl was played in a driving snowstorm. This year's forecast calls for cold but otherwise clear weather. But however things play out, Franchione doesn't think it will affect the outcome. "I hope not. You can't let it be a factor. At 6:30 on the 27th we're going to tee it up and play. Whatever is there, we have to find a way to win the game. The team that does not let it be a factor is the team that will do well."
Today's practice was the first time Alabama has worked outside on artificial turf all season. "I did not notice a problem," Franchione said. "We oriented this field to resemble one of our practices. They had to get accustomed to the new field. It will be a good thing for us to have practiced on it all week. Not having been on an artificial surface all year long, that's good."
The Crimson Tide will practice again Monday at 11:45 am at Independence Stadium. Following practice, the members of the Crimson Tide's Leadership Council will visit the Shriner's Hospital in Shreveport and spread Christmas cheer to some children on Christmas Eve.