"Who knows what the weather is going to be in Nashville," Coach Mike Shula said. Alabama is preparing for the Music City Bowl in Nashville on December 31. When the Crimson Tide played in the inaugural Music City Bowl in 1998, the city was iced over for much of the week of preparation and the game was played in cold, windy and sleet conditions. Kickoff for this year's game at the Coliseum will be at 11 a.m. CST with television coverage by ESPN.
Minnesota, which plays its home games indoors, will represent the Big Ten against Alabama in the Music City Bowl. Bama is representing the Southeastern Conference. Both teams had 6-5 records and 3-5 conference records. Alabama comes into the game having lost two straight games, while the Golden Gophers have lost three straight.
"We'll start to focus on Minnesota Monday, but we'll still work with the younger guys," Shula said. Bama's first four practices (including two workouts Saturday) have been geared towards improving fundamentals with young players who had little or no game work in 2004 getting a great deal of individual attention.
Alabama will begin to install the game plan with two oractices Monday and one practice Tuesday through Thursday in Tuscaloosa. After a break for Christmas, the Tide players and coaches will reassemble in Nashville Sunday, December 26 , and continue preparation with practices at Vanderbilt's practice facility. All Bama practices are closed.
Shula said, "It was a good practice, one of our best practices. The guys were moving around pretty good in the cold weather. But more than that they were competing hard. They were enthusiastic. The execution was good. Not great, but pretty good, especially by the younger guys. I think the rust is off. Practice was good from the start."
Tide players had been off for nearly four weeks since the end of the season before starting back on Friday.
Shula spent much of his career as a coach in South Florida with Tampa Bay and Miami of the NFL. He said when those teams had to go into cold weather climates for late season games that there was "a little bit of a mental thing because it was asked about all the time." He told the story of how when Miami was preparing to go to Buffalo the Miami newspaper ran the temperature in Buffalo on the front of the sports section each day the week of the game. But, he said, there was a period when the Dolphins had an excellent record in cold weather games.
Shula said Alabama's defense, which is ranked first in the nation in pass defense, second in overall defense, and 10th in scoring defense, will be challenged by Minnesota's high-powered offense. "We tell them they have to prove themselves every week," Shula said. "Now they have to do it again to cap off a good season."
And, he said, he also wants to see the offense end with a successful game. "We have to be more efficient," he said. "We haven't been as good as we want to be the last five or six games."
Shula did not spread tidings of joy in his injury report. He said that tight end Clint Johnston is not likely to play. "I don't think Clint is going to be cleared to play," Shula said. "He still has come effects of his last concussion." Johnston, a junior, did not play in Bama's final regular season game and has not practiced for the bowl game.
The Tide coach also said that starting halfback Kenneth Darby, who was the back-up until the seventh game of the year and still rushed for over 1,000 yards, is "questionable" with an abdominal strain. Punter Bo Freelend, who strained his right knee in warm-ups Friday, is questionable. "We'll see how he is next week," the coach said. He said senior tight end David Cavan, who missed the last few weeks of the season with broken vertebrae, "is working, but only in seven-on-seven and one-on-one receving drills. He's staying out of 11-on-11 running work."