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Christmas is over.
It’s time to get back to work.
For Alabama, that means trying to get to its ninth national championship game since the 2009 season. The No. 1 Crimson Tide (12-1) has won three of the last six national titles and finished second for two others.
“You didn’t come this far to get this far,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Sunday upon arriving in Dallas for the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Cotton Bowl between his No. 1 Crimson Tide (12-1) and No. 4 Cincinnati (13-0) on Friday (2:30 p.m. central time, ESPN).
“So, now is the time that you have to realize that,” he said after wishing everyone happy holidays to open his press conference.
Alabama is 8-3 all-time in the College Football Playoff that began in 2014. If the defending national champions beat the 14-point underdog Bearcats, they will advance to the national championship game on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis against the winner of No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Georgia (6:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN) at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
“Yeah, when you’re in the playoffs, it’s all about what’s happening now,” said Saban, who has won seven national titles – 2003 with LSU and 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2020 at Alabama. “It’s what in front of you right now. This is one of those you either win or go home situations. And the players need to understand that.”
Cincinnati is the exact opposite of Alabama, which has won 18 national championships in football. The Bearcats have never played for a national championship and are in the CFP for the first time.
“A little bit different than the platform we’ve been in before,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said in Dallas Sunday. “Obviously, our opponent is quite used to it.”
He understands he is a clear underdog.
“We have a good idea,” he said. But Cincinnati only has to beat Alabama once.
“The best team doesn’t always win the game,” he said. “It’s just a reality. The teams that play the best win the football game.”
Fickell feels like his team is ready – maybe too ready.
“We put the ball down and competed against each other,” he said of a recent practice. “And actually had to shut them down because in some ways I don’t want it to get to a point where we were getting guys hurt and things like that.”
Fickell and his staff have also not bombarded their players with too much Alabama information.
“Back home we tried not to peak too soon and get too much into Alabama three weeks out,” he said. “Sometimes we can do a little bit too much, and then you start to get yourself into that frenzy where you can’t really be yourself because maybe you’re ultimately overly worried about all the different things.”
First things first. Fickell wants his team to experience the atmosphere of the playoffs before their ultimate moments.
“I want them to be able to enjoy a little bit of the surroundings and the things that they have created all in the midst of making sure that they’ll be ready for the 31st,” he said.
Alabama will not be at full strength in the brain trust department until late in the week. Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and offensive line coach Doug Marrone have remained in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, after testing positive for COVID-19. They expect to join the team on Dec. 29 or 30 and coach in the game.
“They will Zoom practice and Zoom the meetings and do all the things that they need to do,” Saban said.
Former Alabama offensive line coach Joe Pendry will be coaching the offensive line during game week.
Alabama will be trying to repeat as national champions for just the second time under Saban, who won back-to-back titles in 2011 and ’12.
“I think the legacy of any team is how you finish,” he said. “And that’s how you’ll be remembered.”