"It's the first time I've ever done it," Croyle said following a two-hour Saturday practice. "Every other bowl game I've either been redshirted or injured. It's different, no doubt about it."
The difference in having a week to get ready for the next opponent and having a month and a half to prepare for a bowl game cuts both ways for the senior, and the rest of the team. While glad to have time to get their legs back underneath them after a long season, there's also the factor of wanting to get the sour aftertaste of the loss to Auburn out of their mouths as quickly as possible. After the infamous 11 sacks given up in that game, the mental state of the Bama offense comes into question.
"We're fine," Croyle said. "We're just ready to get back out there. I think that line's ready to get back out there more than anybody. They're tired of hearing about the Auburn game just like all of us are. They just want to get out there and prove they are a good offensive line… It's over. It's done with. We didn't do what we needed to do to win the game. Me along with everybody else is ready to get this game going and get everybody's mind off the last one."
Croyle, who said he expects to play in the Senior Bowl in Mobile after receiving an invitation this week, walked with more ease Saturday than he has since before the Tennessee game on Oct. 22, when he had more places on his body hurting than not. He appeared to be smaller towards the end of the regular season, but said he is back up to his fall weight now.
"I came in weighing 209 and I'm right at 207 right now," Croyle said. "I held together for the most part of the season didn't get hit all that much until the last coupe of games. Either way, I'm still here."
To obscure memory of the Auburn game, of course, Alabama will have to beat Texas Tech in the Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl, which kicks off at 10 a.m. Central time on FOX. Alabama practiced the past two Saturdays and will go into full scale bowl practice next Friday. Otherwise, they have been studying film, lifting weights and running.
"We did probably 30 minutes worth of Texas Tech, and next Friday we'll start doing that full scale," Croyle said. "They're sound. They don't try and really blitz you too much or confuse too many things. Basically, what you see is what you get. But what they do they do it well."
Croyle was glad to be at practice even with such distractions of a big recruiting weekend, upcoming finals, unusual schedule and a missing teammate notwithstanding. The player missing was All-America linebacker and expected co-captain to Croyle, DeMeco Ryans, who was in Orlando for the Butkus Award presentation Saturday night.
"Nobody's seen DeMeco in about a month," Croyle joked. "It's all well deserved - best football player I've ever played with… If he doesn't win one of them something's wrong with the voting circuit. If there's a better defensive player in the country I'm glad we didn't play him."