December 9, 2013 9:20:36 AM
The Alabama football team will head to the Sugar Bowl facing the same kind of challenge it encountered the last time it played in this game.
The Crimson Tiude will need to stay motivated after their national title hopes have vanished.
Alabama was atop the polls all season and seemed headed toward a shot at a third straight national title before falling 34-28 to No. 2 Auburn. Third-ranked Alabama (11-1) instead will face No. 11 Oklahoma (10-2) in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 at New Orleans. The game is sponsored by Allstate.
"Even though there is some disappointment in terms of how we finished our season this year, we're not disappointed at all in the opportunity that we have to play in the Sugar Bowl and to play against a great team," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I'm hopeful that our team will look at this as a challenge and an opportunity for them to prove the kind of football team we can be."
Alabama faced a similar situation five years ago.
When it earned that Sugar Bowl invitation in 2008, Alabama had just lost the SEC title to Florida with a Bowl Championship Series championship game appearance at stake. Alabama fell behind 21-0 to Utah and went on to lose 31-17. The Tide had a more pleasant Superdome postseason memory when they capped their 2011 national title with a 21-0 victory over LSU in the BCS championship game.
"How (this) team recovers and how that team goes and takes the challenge of this game is going to say a lot about the character and the leadership this team has," Saban said.
Oklahoma won't have to worry about motivation.
The Sooners' national title hopes were long gone when they boosted their chances for a BCS at-large invitation Saturday with a 33-24 victory at Oklahoma State, which fell from No. 6 to No. 13 after the loss. The Sugar Bowl invited Oklahoma over No. 10 Oregon (10-2), which also had a strong case for a BCS bid.
"Everybody just kept grinding, kept fighting, kept believing," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "We've had a great attitude and a tough, hard-working group of players all along."
Stoops downplayed the notion that his team might have some type of mental edge because it's coming off an emotional victory over an in-state rival while Alabama is recovering from a devastating loss to its rival.
"It might make a difference if we were playing next week, but the fact that there's so much time in between, I don't think it's a factor at all," Stoops said.
Stoops now has an opportunity to change his recent luck in bowl games against SEC opponents. Oklahoma ended the 2003 season with a 21-14 Sugar Bowl loss to LSU, capped the 2008 season with a 24-14 BCS championship game loss to Florida and fell 41-13 to Texas A&M in last season's Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma had won three straight bowl games -- all against non-SEC teams -- before its Cotton Bowl loss last year.
Alabama might provide the toughest challenge of all those SEC opponents. Stoops showered praise on Alabama during a Sunday night teleconference and called Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron the best player in the country.
"I think it's just incredible what Nick Saban and Alabama have done the last three or four years," Stoops said. "They've been No. 1 in the country for like four years. We get it, we understand what a challenge it is, but we're excited about it."
These two storied programs will be facing each other for only the fifth time ever. Oklahoma leads the series 2-1-1 and beat Alabama 20-13 when they last met in 2003 at Tuscaloosa. Two of their prior meetings came in bowl games. Oklahoma and Alabama tied 24-24 in the 1970 Bluebonnet Bowl. Alabama beat Oklahoma 17-0 in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1963.
n Music City Bowl pits Mississippi vs. Georgia Tech: At Nashville, Tenn., the Ole Miss Rebels will finish the season in the same place where they started back in August.
Ole Miss will play Georgia Tech in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 in a pairing announced Sunday night. Ole Miss opened the season beating Vanderbilt a couple miles from LP Field, home of the bowl game. Now the Rebels are back in this bowl for the second time.
"We have one of the great bowl traditions in all of college football, and I'm excited we have earned a bowl berth in each of our first two seasons," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "I appreciate the unbelievable support Rebel Nation has provided our team, and I look forward to seeing a sea of Red and Blue in Nashville."
Ole Miss (7-5) finished on a two-game skid that dropped the Rebels out of the Top 25 rankings. The Rebels played in the BBVA Compass Bowl last
This will be the 35th bowl appearance all-time by Ole Miss. The Rebels are 22-12, including last season when Ole Miss beat Pittsburgh 38-17 at the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., to cap Freeze's first season.
The last time Ole Miss played in the Music City Bowl, David Cutcliffe was the coach and Eli Manning was the Rebels' quarterback. That's the only bowl the Rebels have lost over the past 10 bowl trips going back to the 1992 Liberty Bowl.
Ole Miss lost 49-38 to West Virginia in their first Music City Bowl. These Rebels have plenty of Tennessee connections starting at quarterback in Bo Wallace, a native of Giles County, and a running back in I'Tavius Mathers from nearby Murfreesboro.
Ole Miss Athletic Director Ross Bjork said Ole Miss has 126,000 alumni within a day's drive. Added to the Rebels' season opening win over Vanderbilt, he said Nashville is a stronghold for Ole Miss.
"We know our fans will continue our stellar reputation of supporting our team and filling up LP Field," Bjork said. "Last year was Lock the Legion and now we have the Music City Encore."
Georgia Tech (7-5) will be making its first appearance in the bowl sponsored by Franklin American Mortgage as the Atlantic Coast Conference's representative. This is the Yellow Jackets' 17th straight bowl berth, tied for the second longest streak nationally, and 42nd overall. They went to the Sun Bowl the past two seasons and beat Southern California 21-7 last year.
"Ole Miss is a very talented football team and they are well-coached, so we certainly have our work cut out for us," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "It should be an entertaining football game."
This will be the first game between these teams since 1971 when Ole Miss beat the Yellow Jackets 41-18 in the Peach Bowl. Georgia Tech won the other two games in this series in 1956 and at the 1953 Sugar Bowl, the last capping an undefeated season.
Georgia Tech has never played at LP Field, home to the NFL's Tennessee Titans, and the Yellow Jackets last played in Nashville in 2009.