No. 5 Alabama set to close 2022 campaign in Allstate Sugar Bowl

Blake Byler, Sports Editor

The 2022 college football season has been a roller coaster for the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

This season was built up with lots of expectations, from the revenge tour for last season’s national championship loss, to what is likely the final season for stars Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. Many even thought this was one of the most talented teams head coach Nick Saban would ever have in Tuscaloosa. 

When it was all said and done, though, the 2022 rendition of Alabama football went 10-2 in the regular season thanks to two losses at the buzzer and missed the College Football Playoff for just the second time in program history. 

A disappointment to fans? Perhaps.  

But Saban ended the season talking about nothing but positivity. 

“This program was built on positive,” Saban said, reflecting on the season. “It was built on 95,000 people coming to the spring game when we were first here and everyone wanted to be a part of that. It wasn’t built on naysayers, it wasn’t built on negative, it wasn’t built on expectations that if we don’t succeed at a certain level then there’s going to be a lot of criticism.” 

Saban felt that the trials that the team faced over the course of the season in losses to Tennessee and LSU actually helped the team grow closer together. 

“I thought that brought this team together more than anything else,” Saban said. “They wanted to persevere and prove what they could do.” 

With the lack of a College Football Playoff berth, though, Alabama has been put in an all-too-familiar spot that has left the team with undesirable results in the past: playing in the Sugar Bowl. 

We’ve seen Alabama play in the Sugar Bowl after missing out on a national championship appearance before — first in 2008 with a loss to Utah, and second in 2013 with a loss to Oklahoma. In both of those instances, Alabama was playing against what many considered to be a lesser team, yet still walked away with a loss to carry throughout the offseason. 

Saban, however, thinks this year’s squad will be ready to go. 

“I like the attitude that this team has had up to this point,” Saban said after arriving in New Orleans on Monday. “Hopefully, we can continue to build on that and have positive momentum going into the game and go out and play a good game and execute well. But I think everybody has to respect who you’re playing and what it’s going to take to be able to do that.” 

When it comes to respecting the opponent, the No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats are a threat in as many ways as one could imagine.  

The Wildcats are coming off a victory over No. 3 TCU in the Big 12 Championship, avenging their regular season loss to the Horned Frogs. Kansas State sports a 10-3 record on the season and boasts wins over Oklahoma State and SEC foe Missouri to go along with its most recent victory over TCU. 

At quarterback, Kansas State originally started Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez when the year began, but an injury caused head coach Chris Klieman to pivot to junior Will Howard as his signal-caller. In just six games of action, Howard amassed over 1,400 yards passing to go along with 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions. 

But the quarterback isn’t what makes the Wildcats go. That would be Deuce Vaughn — a 5-foot-6 star running back with the build of a bowling ball who has been a consensus All-American for two years in a row. Vaughn carried the ball a whopping 271 times this season and racked up 1,425 yards and eight touchdowns, consistently being spoken about as one of the best running backs in college football. 

Stopping Vaughn will be a handful for Alabama, but despite what many anticipated after the conclusion of the Iron Bowl, the Crimson Tide will be playing the Sugar Bowl at full strength. 

Star quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. were thought to be top candidates to opt-out of Alabama’s bowl game to begin their personal preparations for the 2023 NFL Draft. Young and Anderson, both projected top-10 picks, flipped everyone’s expectations on their heads when the captains both announced they would be playing in New Orleans on New Year’s Eve.  

“I wanted to finish with my teammates this season. There’s been a lot of work that’s gone into this year, and I just get another chance to play with my brothers. That’s really how I look at it,” Young said. “We’ve all had each other’s backs all year. It’s been about accountability, about making sure we’re holding ourselves to our standard. That’s a word that we all live by, that I live by.” 

Anderson echoed Young’s sentiment. 

“For me, it was all just about the leadership and being here for the team,” Anderson said. “I’ve been preaching so much over these last two years about how to do things the right way, the standard around here, and how to uplift and uphold the standard. And it wouldn’t be right for me to just walk out on my teammates.” 

Alabama’s other draft-eligible players followed Young and Anderson’s example, meaning no players will be opting out of the Sugar Bowl for Alabama. 

On paper, it’s easy to make the claim that Alabama has the better team in this Sugar Bowl matchup, but like we’ve seen in previous bowl games like this, motivation can be hard to come by for programs with national championship aspirations. 

Perhaps the leadership of Young and Anderson will lead this team to a different result. 

Kickoff between Alabama and Kansas State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl is set for 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 31. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. 

Questions or comments? Email Blake Byler (Sports Editor) at [email protected]