On Wednesday, when Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione met the press for the final time before the game, he noted that he wished Alabama's bowl tradition was worth a few points in this game.
And Iowa State Coach Dan McCarney and his players have made much of what it would mean for the Cyclones to defeat a team of Bama's stature. "It should bring out the best in us," McCarney said. "We all know about the history of Alabama football." He added, "A win could give us a great shot. Not many people know about Iowa State. Everyone knows about Alabama."
Alabama, 6-5, and Iowa State, 7-4, will kick off shortly after 6:30 p.m. CST Thursday at Independence Stadium in Shreveport in a game that will be telecast by ESPN.
Franchione said, "The opportunity to win a seventh game this season is important. Alabama has won a lot of national championships, but winning a seventh game this year is important for where this program is now."
Bama will be playing in a national record 51st bowl game and trying for a record 29th victory. Iowa State went to its fifth bowl game last year and turned in its first ever bowl win, beating Pittsburgh in the Insight.Com Bowl.
The Crimson Tide was to have its last workout at Independence Stadium Wednesday, the equivalent of a normal Friday workout in which the team goes through final preparation with emphasis on the kicking game. All Bama practices have been in the stadium, which features an unusual artificial surface, Field Turf.
The weather forecast for Thursday calls for only the slightest chance of precipitation, but very cold temperatures. Franchione said he didn't think the weather would be a factor in the game. He said he certainly didn't expect the Iowa State players to consider temperatures in the 40s to be cold and that his players might wear long-sleeved shirts under their jerseys, but that it would be "good football weather" after the players began moving around.
Franchione said that it has been a great week for Alabama, both for the hospitality shown his team by the Independence Bowl and for the progress made with excellent practice sessions. He said Alabama had good preparation in installing the game plan in practices in Tucaloosa prior to the team having a short break last week and that after the layoff the players have shown good quickness in the four-day tune-up in Shreveport.
The Tide coach said he expected both teams to have some "gimmick" plays, but noted "That's not what got either one of us here." He said that a team has to be fundamentally sound to handle the trick plays of an opponent, but that both Alabama and Iowa State will do primarily the things they have done all year.
Both coaches declined to guess at a possible score, both saying that whenever they tried to do that the game usually being far different than they expected.
Franchione said he thought the keys to victory would be Alabama containing the Iowa State offense, which he pointed out includes the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in athletic quarterback Seneca Wallace and the All-Big 12 tailback in Ennis Haywood. "You have to defend both aspects," Franchione said. But, he added, every defensive coordinator would say that the first priority has to be to stop the run. The Tide coach pointed out that both teams had few turnovers during the year and he didn't expect many Thursday night, but McCarney said he thought it was important that his team get some Alabama turnovers.
Franchione said he thinks "The offense that gets into rhythm will be the one that wins. Both teams have offenses that are capable of scoring points, but also both have defenses that are capable of getting a play ahead of the offense and disrupting the rhythm."
Franchione said that both senior Andrew Zow and junior Tyler Watts would see duty at quarterback. Zow is almost certain to start. Watts has not played since being injured early in Alabama's ninth game of the year. Watts started the first nine games before his groin injury. Zow has quarterbacked Bama to three consecutive wins.
McCarney said Alabama's finish made the Crimson Tide "one of the hottest teams in college football at the end of the season." He said his squad was expecting to see both quarterbacks and said that both do well running the option and throwing the football.
Iowa State is nationally-ranked in both rushing offense and total offense, primarily because of Wallace and Haywood. McCarney noted that Haywood has rushed for 100 yards or more in 12 games and Iowa State is 12-0 in those games.
McCarney called Iowa State's task a "great challenge," saying Alabama was a "tremendous football team, well-coached in every phase."
Franchione said a bowl victory "would catapult us into next year. Two years ago the winner of this game (Oklahoma) went on to win the national championship the next year. I hope this game is something that continues to energize our program and keep it going in the right direction."
He added, "I think we are headed in the right direction. We have some seniors who will be hard to replace, and we are still a work in progress, but we have come a long way."
Franchione said a bowl win would also be important for Bama's seniors, who have not had a bowl victory in two previous tries (losses to Virginia Tech in the Music City and Michigan in the Orange).
McCarney said that he expected turnovers and the kicking game to play a part in the outcome. But, he said, "Like all games, it will come down to who wins in the trenches. And Alabama is one of the tops in the nation.." He added that Alabama has play-makers on offense and has a "physical running game, played the way football is supposed to be played. The defensive front is extremely physical." He compared Alabama from the standpoint of both schemes and the playing style to Big 12 opponents Colorado and Texas A&M, and noted that both those teams defeated Iowa State.
Alabama will be without wide receiver Antonio Carter, who is also the Tide's punt return specialist, as well as back-up performers fullback Marvin Brown and offensive tackles Lannis Baxley and Dante Ellington, all victims of the Southeastern Conference rule that mandates players pass six hours in the fall semester in order to be eligible for post-season play. Triandos Luke is expected to get most of the additional playing time at wide receiver while Freddie Milons will be returning punts.
Bama's starting offensive line-up is expected to be:
On offense, Jason McAddley at split end, Terry Jones at tight end, Wesley Britt at quickside tackle, Justin Smiley at quickside guard, Alonzo Ephraim at center, Marico Portis at strongside guard, Evan Mathis at strongside tackle, Andrew Zow at quarterback, Donnie Lowe at fullback, Ahmaad Galloway at tailback, and Freddie Milons at flanker.
On defense, Aries Monroe at left end, Kindal Moorehead at right end, Kenny King at nose tackle, Jarret Johnson at tackle, Saleem Rasheed at middle linebacker, Cornelius Wortham at strongside linebacker, Brooks Daniels at rover, Gerald Dixon at left cornerback, Hirchel Bolden at right cornerback, Waine Bacon at strong safety, and Reggie Myles at safety.
Lane Bearden will punt and kickoff, Neal Thomas will kick field goals and extra points, Nick Ridings will snap, Jonathan Richey will hold for place-kicks, Freddie Milons will return punts, and Jason McAddley and Triandos Luke will return kickoffs.