Tide Makes Bowl Plans

Joe Kelley was a good athlete at Alabama, good enough to play for Coach Paul Bryant behind Ken Stabler at quarterback on good Crimson Tide football teams and good enough to make the Bama baseball team. And he's been an even better alumnus, ultrasuccessful in the insurance business and a leading citizen of Nashville. He was instrumental in the formation of the Music City Bowl, and for the second time Kelley–now the bowl chairman–was able to announce his alma mater as a participant.

The bowl, now the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl Presented by Bridgestone, announced late Saturday that the Crimson Tide (6-5) will represent the Southeastern Conference in the seventh annual Bowl and go up against the Big Ten's Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-5), Friday, December 31, at 11 a.m. CST at The Coliseum. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN.

It will be the second appearance in the Music City Bowl for both Bama and the Gophers. The Tide, currently ranked first in the nation in pass defense and second in the nation in total defense, was defeated by Virginia Tech, 38-7, in 1998, while Minnesota was crowned 2002 Music City Bowl champions after a 29-14 win over Arkansas. Bama's earlier game was played at Vanderbilt Stadium, while the game is now played in the grand downtown stadium of the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

There were no reports of shock when the Bama announcement was made. It had been an open secret for a couple of weeks that Alabama would be going to Nashville barring the most unlikely of events, only one of which was a Tennessee upset of Auburn in the SEC Championship Game Saturday. Music City Bowl officials made no secret of their desire for Alabama. Jay Sevigny, chief operating officer of Gaylord Hotels, said, "The loyalty of Crimson Tide fans to their team is legendary and their familiarity with Nashville's attractions should make the New Year's weekend in Nashville highly attractive to thousands of Alabamians."

Alabama has an unsurpassed bowl history. Alabama has played in more bowl games (51) and won more bowl games (29) than any other school. However, Bama has not been in the bowl picture the past two years because of NCAA sanctions.

Alabama Coach Mike Shula said Sunday, "We're thrilled to be going to Nashville. Our players have worked hard all year and fought through some tough injuries. Seniors have been through a lot and they are excited about playing in the post season. This will be my first experience as a coach, but I remember as a player. Players are going to have a lot of fun, but we're also going to work hard.

"We know what the standards are at Alabama, and they are extremely high. We're not there yet. But a lot of things are going in the right direction. The attitude has been great, the defense improved tremendously, and I have been pleased at how we ran the ball this year."

He said Bama players have been working out on their own, and that practice would begin December 17. "We'll get a lot of work done in those first four or five days," Shula said. "We may practice twice a couple of days. Some of those practices may not be geared totally towards Minnesota. We're going to get some real good work in pads. We'll give some work to young guys early, then go back to a normal season schedule in getting ready for Minnesota."

Before the return to practice, Shula said players are working to get healthy and working to stay in shape. He said that most of those who have been nicked in recent weeks–tackle Wesley Britt, tight end David Cavan, and halfback Kenneth Darby–should be back. There is still some question about tight end Clint Johnston, who was out with a concussion.

While Offensive Coordinator David Rader and Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines have been working on Minnesota, much of the staff has been involved in recruiting and will continue in recruiting this week. Shula said, "We feel like we've had a pretty good first week. Some of us will be out again today, some tomorrow. I think what we saw in injuries this year puts a premium on recruiting. It's early yet, but I think we've been a little more aggressive in recruiting this year. And it seems that prospective student-athletes are making decisions earlier. We have some verbal commitments, and I think we are close on some others."

Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore said Bama selected the Music City Bowl over the Independence Bowl, which is played in Shreveport on December 28. He cited the date of the Music City Bowl working better for Alabama's practice schedule, the proximity to Nashville for a larger segment of Alabama fans, and the Coliseum having a greater capacity. He added, "Both are outstanding bowls."

He also announced that Alabama had sold its allotment of tickets. However, the game is not yet a sellout, so more tickets will be available.

The Music City Bowl, entering its seventh year, features an SEC and Big Ten match-up, two of the premier conferences in college football. Since its inception, the Bowl has produced a $69 million economic impact; 29 million television viewers have watched the Bowl on ESPN; and more than $10 million has been contributed to the participating universities through the Bowl's payout.

The Gophers will be appearing in their third consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history and this will also be the program's fifth bowl appearance in the past six seasons. Minnesota defeated Oregon, 31-30, in last season's Sun Bowl. The Gophers have also participated in the 1999 Sun Bowl and the 2000 Micronpc.com Bowl during Coach Glen Mason's eight seasons at Minnesota.

Alabama and Minnesota have never met in football.

It appears as it the game will pit a very good Minnesota offense against a very good Alabama defense and a mediocre Crimson Tide offense against an average Minnesota defense.

Minnesota unior running back Marion Barber III and sophomore running back Laurence Maroney were both named the team's Bronko Nagurski Award winner, which is given to the team's most valuable player, and Bruce Smith Award winners, which is given to the team's offensive MVP. Barber and Maroney both surpassed 1,000 yards rushing. Maroney tallied a career-best 1,243 yards in only his second season and is ranked third in the Big Ten and 15th in the nation in rushing, averaging 113 yards per game. Barber joined Maroney in the 1,000-yard club for the second straight season by rushing for 167 yards against Iowa in Minnesota's final regular season game, placing him at 1,082 yards for the season. Barber is fourth in the Big Ten in rushing and 29th in the nation, averaging 98.4 yards per game. Barber and Maroney became the first duo in NCAA history to each rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

Minnesota had six All-Big Ten honorees, including five first teamers. Maroney, last season's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, along with junior center Greg Eslinger and senior offensive tackle Rian Melander were named first-team All- Big Ten by both the coaches and the media. Junior guard Mark Setterstrom was a first- team selection by the media and was a second-team choice by the coaches, while senior cornerback Ukee Dozier was a first-team selection by the media and received honorable- mention recognition by the coaches. Senior defensive end Darrell Reid was a second-team selection by the media and also received honorable-mention recognition by the coaches.

Quarterback Bryan Cupito had a poor percentage, 47.4 per cent on 118 completions in 249 attempts, but passed for 2,022 yards and 14 touchdowns against only six interceptions.

Minnesota averaged 31 points per game. The Gophers were third in the Big Tenm in total offense, first in rushing offense, sixth in passing offense, and second in scoring offense. They were ninth in total defense, eighth in rush defense, 11th in pass defense, and seventh in scoring defense.

After opening the season with five consecutive wins, Minnesota had a tough end to the year, finished by losing five of six, but two of those were a three point loss at Michigan, and a season-ending two point loss to Iowa.

Bama opened its season with three straight wins, then had terrible injury luck, including losing starting quarterback Brodie Croyle, starting halfback Ray Hudson, and starting fullback Tim Castille. Meanwhile, The Tide lost three of its final four games. Bama's defense did very well, ranking among the nation's best in total defense (235.9 yards per game), passing defense (116.5 yards per game), and scoring defense (15.4 points per game). Alabama averaged 25.4 points per game.

Ticket prices for the Bowl begin at $15 and $30 for Upper Level, $45 for Lower Level and $65 for Club Level and are available in all sections of The Coliseum. Tickets can be purchased by going to www.rolltide.com or through the athletics ticket office in Coleman Coliseum.

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