Bang or Whimper?

Nick Saban has already credited the current crop of upper classmen on the University of Alabama football team for its instrumental role in "changing the culture" and for returning the Crimson Tide to football prominence. But there's something the group has yet to do: finish a season on a high note.

Saban has said the 2008 squad is among the most favorite teams he's ever coached. He praised their, work ethic, togetherness and competitive spirit. And the group has a list of accomplishments to its credit including beating both its traditional SEC rivals, winning the SEC Western Division and putting itself just one win away from being in the BCS National Championship game.

Undoubtedly, however, there is unfinished business for the Crimson Tide which resonates with the Bama's upper classmen above all others. "Mental toughness and finishing," senior tight end Travis McCall said, are the two biggest impacts Nick Saban has had on the mindset of the team. A look back on the late-season performances during the tenure of the small senior class explains the emphasis on finishing.

In 2005, Bama lost two of its last three (its only two losses of the year) after briefly dreaming about factoring in the national championship picture. In 2006, Mike Shula's last year, Bama lost the last three regular season games and the bowl game. Last season Alabama lost its last four regular season games before salvaging some end-of-year respectability with a win over Colorado in the Independence Bowl. That win sparked a drive for something bigger.

"Starting from last year's Independence Bowl… we got together in the locker room and said that we had to do better as a team, to buy into some things that Coach Saban had brought to us, that we would only improve as a team when we bought into the coaching," senior center Antoine Caldwell said. "And I think getting here to the Sugar Bow this year is a tribute to that."

A win Friday would leave this class's legacy in sterling company. As Caldwell pointed out, via Saban's message to the team no doubt, a win would give Alabama 13 wins, something (by virtue of the ever-lengthening college football season) only one Crimson Tide team, the 1992 national championship team, has ever done.

But for now the question remains ‘Can the Tide finish?'.

"It's time for us to be able to redeem ourselves and get back on the winning track," McCall said. "It has been tough the past couple of years, but we have continued to work and finally we have done some things that we have wanted to do."

A letdown against Utah would be reminiscent of previous end-of-year disappointments the senior class has experienced. But Saban and Alabama's seniors have come to expect better – they sense a changing Tide.

"I just don't want to disappoint him," McCall said of Saban. "I want to go out there and do my best every time I step on the field. He works so hard for you, and that makes us want to go out and work hard for him. It is an even trade; he gives us all he has got so we give him all we got."

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