(1) Alabama - 20, (4) Florida - 31
By Paul Newberry - AP Sports Writer
December 7, 2008
Shortly after Alabama lost its first game of the season—and any
chance to play for a national championship—Nick Saban muttered
something that might add a little spice to the next contest.
Glen Coffee (38) dives away from Florida linebacker Ryan Stamper (41)
for a first-quarter touchdown in the SEC Championship game.
The Crimson Tide coach said his team was the only one “that plays in
a real BCS conference that went 12-0.”
Hmm, what do you think about that, Utah?
“We don’t let it bother us,” coach Kyle Whittingham insisted Sunday
evening. “Our mantra this year is only control what we can control.
Go out and play our best football week in and week out. Our fate is
in the hands of voters and computers. We don’t worry about that other
That philosophy worked out just fine for the Utes, who’ll get a chance
to show their 12-0 record is nothing to be scoffed at when they face
Alabama in the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl at New Orleans.
The No. 4 Crimson Tide (12-1) was atop the rankings until a 31-20
loss to Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game
Saturday. The defeat couldn’t have come at a worse time, giving
Alabama no chance to bounce back like other one-loss schools such
as Florida and Oklahoma, which will meet in the BCS championship
game at Miami.
Still, the Tide was one of the country’s most compelling teams,
returning to national prominence in Saban’s second season. Before he
arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama had gone through a rough decade: four
coaches, four losing seasons, stifling NCAA sanctions and just one
appearance in a major bowl.
“Our players are certainly disappointed,” Saban said. “But this is an
opportunity. If you’re going to be a great team, when you lose, you
want to come back and play your best the next time you play.”
Four years ago, No. 7 Utah became the first non-BCS school to reach a
major bowl since the format was created in 1998. The Urban
Meyer-coached Utes defeated Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to complete
their first perfect season since 1930.
Now, they’ve got a shot at another in a year that began with an upset
win at Michigan and will finish at the Superdome.
Twenty-four hours after the loss in Atlanta, Saban threw out plenty
of compliments about Utah, even if they do play in the Mountain West
Conference— not one of those “real” BCS leagues.
“It’s not easy to win 12 games in a season and go undefeated,” he
said. “Their team has done an outstanding job and it’s a fantastic
opportunity for us. It’s going to be a competitive game.”
A competitive game is certainly at the top of the Sugar Bowl’s agenda.
Under the convoluted formula used to fill out the four major bowls
after Nos. 1 and 2 are matched in the championship game, the Big Easy
somehow wound up with a BCS Buster for the second year in a row.
Last season it was Hawaii, which charmed New Orleans with its island
friendliness but got blown out on the field, losing 41-10 to SEC
“I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say we were concerned about the
outcome of last year’s game,” said Paul Hoolahan, the game’s
executive director. “Hawaii was fabulous in everything they brought
to the city: the enthusiasm of their fan base, the general quality of
the people who came in to participate. They were a great bunch to have.
“But in any situation, there’s so many elements you’re trying to make
happen at the highest level. When you get into a situation where it
becomes a little lopsided, it’s just a difficult thing. You want to
keep all your constituencies happy. So that was something of a concern.”
In all fairness, Utah appears to be a more accomplished program than
Hawaii. The Utes already have a BCS bowl victory on their resume and
this year’s out-of-conference schedule included not only the
season-opening win at the Big House (before anybody knew just how bad
Michigan were going to be) but a home victory over Oregon State, the
only team to beat mighty USC.
“When you look at schools like Utah and Boise State, they’ve played
up,” Hoolahan said. “They’ve played competitively against top-name
schools. To go 12-0 with the schedule they have, with the way they
play, the way they get after it, I think it’s a safe bet with those
teams. Particularly Utah. We’re comfortable they will compete at a
very high level.”
Alabama was 15 minutes away from playing for its first national
championship since 1992, leading the Gators 20-17 heading to the
fourth quarter of the SEC title game. But Tim Tebow guided Florida
to a pair of touchdowns and a spot in the biggest championship game
The Tide’s consolation was a 13th appearance in the Sugar Bowl as the
SEC’s representative. Alabama will be making its first trip to the
Big Easy since the New Year’s Day game in 1993, when a 34-13 rout of
Miami wrapped up the school’s sixth national title—and only one in
the post-Bear Bryant era.
Meyer is now coaching at Florida, but his successor Whittingham left
in place the spread offense that worked so well against Alabama in
the SEC championship game.
“It’s a good offense,” Saban said. “It’s difficult to defend—very,
The Utes clinched the Mountain West title two weeks ago and finished
sixth in the BCS standings to secure a spot in one of the major bowls.
The only other unbeaten team in the NCAA’s top division was Boise
State (12-0), but they were ninth and settled for a minor bowl.
So it’s left to Utah to carry the banner for all non-BCS schools.
“Hopefully we can keep this going and keep it up and make this a
yearly thing,” quarterback Brian Johnson said. “I’ve bee saying all
along I felt we were an elite team. We’ll get a chance to prove