Squads Getting Serious

A building sense of importance gathered around the 70th edition of the Cotton Bowl Classic as the head coaches from Texas Tech and Alabama gathered for the traditional joint new conference at the Omni Mandalay hotel in Dallas on Friday.

"I think the guys are getting a little antsy," Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said.

Some exciting finishes among other bowl games this week and a conference showdown have added another subplot to the already intriguing matchup between Texas Tech's high-octane Big 12 offense and Alabama's stifling Southeastern Conference defense.

Tide Coach Mike Shula at Friday morning's formal press conference.

Thus far in bowl season, the Big 12 (which was considered down in quality teams this year by most everyone outside the league areas) has been dominant, having reeled off three wins in its first three games.

Those Big 12 wins included a Nebraska upset of the Big Ten's Michigan in the Alamo Bowl on Wednesday night and an Oklahoma upset of No. 6 Oregon from the Pac-10 Thursday night in the Holiday bowl. Kansas beat Houston in the Fort Worth Bowl last Friday.

The common thread among the three winning bowl teams from the Big 12? They all list losses to Texas Tech this season.

"I think it says we're better than average," Tech Head Coach Mike Leach said.

Coaches fielded questions from the large media gathering.

Shula later added, "And they're better than all those teams. That's the kind of team we're going to be facing. I know our players realize that. We've been very impressed with the offense, defense and special teams with what they've done."

And while the Big 12 Conference started the bowl season 3-0, the streak looked to be drawing to a close when took a 28-7 halftime lead against Missouri in the Independence Bowl. South Carolina was the first Southeastern Conference team to play in a bowl, with LSU scheduled to play Miami on Friday night in the Peach Bowl.

"There's a lot of motivation for this game because you're playing against a good football team and you want to represent your University, your football team, your program and the Southeastern Conference playing in a January bowl game where you know most of the country is going to be watching you," Shula said. "Plus, these guys are all competitors."

The head coaches pose with the Cotton Bowl Trophy.

Alabama lost to Minnesota in the Music City Bowl last year ending its season with a loss for the second year in a row, but there is a sense of better preparedness for the 10 a.m. kick time for the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

"Like anything else with experience, you get better and you have things to draw from," Shula said. "You're more comfortable with what you're doing and the people you're doing it with. The true measure is obviously the scoreboard at the end of the game. I know our coaches feel better about our preparation for this game."

To simulate the speed of Texas Tech, Alabama has been running its first string offense against the first string defense more than usual in practice.

"Actually, we did it today in the two-minute drill. Yesterday was our last day of doing the other drills against that," Shula said. "Yesterday was also the last day we worked our young guys. We didn't do that today."

The teams were invited to the Dallas Mavericks versus Golden State Warriors game tonight at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The squad will practice in shorts tomorrow in what will mirror a typical Thursday practice after what has been four days of relatively intense practices Shula has compared to the first week of the season.

"(The players are) pretty much staying into it," Shula said, "definitely looking forward to the game, too. They're a little bit tired right now so today will be a good day to get some rest and the next few days to get off their feet and use this time wisely."

Mike Shula chuckled when Mike Leach told reporters he'd be happy to have Shula come in and replace departing fifth-year senior quarterback Cody Hodges.

Update: Missouri rallied to defeat South Carolina 38-31 in the Independence Bowl, giving the Big 12 a record of 4-0 in bowl games and making SEC teams 0-1 in the bowl season.

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