Coaches Comments On Sugar Bowl

Alabama takes football bowl games seriously, even if it's not exactly what was hoped for. But that doesn't mean every nuance is life or death. The Crimson Tide would have preferred to have played in the national championship game, but that opportunity was lost Saturday night. Instead Bama will be in the Sugar Bowl.

"The SEC Championship Game didn't go as we planned, but this is about as good as it gets, going to the Sugar Bowl," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said Sunday night in a teleconference. Saban, Sugar Bowl Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoolahan, and Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham participated in the call.

Alabama and Utah will play in the 75th annual Sugar Bowl in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans on Friday, January 2. The game will be nationally televised by Fox. Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. CST.

For his part, Whittingham said that he was not concerned about remarks Saban has made characterizing the Crimson Tide as "the only BCS conference team to go undefeated in regular season play."

Alabama was 12-0 before losing to Florida, 31-20, in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta Saturday. The Gators earned the bid to the BCS Championship Game to play Oklahoma.

Whittingham's Utah team was also 12-0 in regular season, but the Utes are not from a BCS conference. Utah played its way into the Sugar Bowl, one of the BCS gtames, with its record in the Mountain West Conference.

Whittingham also seemed to ignore Hoolahan's effusive praise of having Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

"We can't be more excited than with the matchup we've been able to put together here. This is a dream come true. This is the 75th anniversary of the (first) playing of the Sugar Bowl Classic and to be able to bring back a school with the history and tradition and the long-term association with the Sugar Bowl that Alabama has had is just a remarkable occurrence for us. It's a gift from heaven as far as we're concerned. It's a great, great situation to a have such a highly ranked team and such a deserving team. Needless to say, we're equally as impressed with the opponent, another highly ranked team."

Hoolahan admitted there was some awareness of the possible ramifications of having a non-BCS conference team in the Sugar Bowl. Last year Hawaii got into the Sugar Bowl and was blasted by Georgia. But, he said, it was good to get such highly ranked teams (Alabama is fourth in the BCS rankings and Utah sixth), pointing out it was the highest combined ranked teams the Sugar Bowl has had for a non-national championship game in some 20 years.

Whittingham is aware of the non-BSC status of his team and said that as a "BCS buster" the Utes would "want to represent all those (non-BCS) teams." But he said he would want his team to play well in every game.

Saban aaid that he had a good experience in each of the Sugar Bowls in which he participated as coach at LSU and said Bama's players were excited to be going to New Orleans.

He said, "Our fans are excited about coming. This is a great opportunity for us to take part in a great event that has tremendous tradition. There is no question this is a first-class event with first-class people and a great game."

His comments regarding Bama being the only 12-0 BCS team (in regular season play) notwithstanding, Saban said "I'd also like to congratulate Utah and their team and Coach Whittingham on their season. They have done an outstanding job this season in all that they have accomplished. It's not easy to win 12 games in a season and go undefeated and it happens less and less. Certainly, their team has done an outstanding job and is a fantastic opponent for us. It's going to be a very competitive game and we are certainly looking forward to it."

Saban said Alabama players were disappointed about losing the SEC Championship Game, but said the mark of a good team is to play well after having adversity.

Whittingham replaced Urban Meyer at Utah when Meyer went to Florida and Whittingham said Utah had retained much of the offense Meyer left. He did point out that the offense is always evolving and both he and Saban pointed to the presence of Tim Tebow as quarterback of the Florida version of the spread.

Still, Saban called it "a very good offense," adding he was surprised more teams didn't utilize it.

Whittingham said he watched the SEC Championship Game and joked that he would be on the telephone to Meyer tonight.

He described Alabama as perhaps the nation's most physical team and the most powerful running team.

One other thing both coaches noted was Utah's season-opening win over Michigan. "We started the season against Michigan in the Big House and we're ending it with Alabama in the Sugar Bowl," Whittigham said. Saban said, "They may not have the marquee name, but they have a team that has beaten some of those marquee names."

Whittingham called Alabama "one of the marquee teams in football, one of the most storied names in college football."

And he called Saban "an icon in college football coaching. He's as good as there is."

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