Saban reflects on season, previews Sugar Bowl

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Kelly Ward

NEW ORLEANS | After No. 1 Alabama’s 23-17 loss to Ole Miss on Oct. 4, the Crimson Tide hasn’t dealt much with complacency.

“Since the Ole Miss game, we’ve sort of been in a playoff of our own kind,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said on Wednesday. “We were always one negative experience away from being out of the mix relative to getting in the college playoff. Now that we’re in the playoff, the circumstance is really no different. So everything is about this game.”

Saban spoke Wednesday morning at the final press conference before Thursday’s Sugar Bowl matchup with No. 4 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff Semifinal.

Brand name football in inaugural playoff

Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State and Ohio State are four of the biggest programs in college football. Their inclusion in the inaugural playoff after No. 6 TCU dropped out of the top four after a 55-3 blowout of Iowa State to finish the season brought scrutiny to the new system.

The first two out, No. 5 Baylor and TCU, both won their final games but did not compete in a conference championship game since the Big 12 does not have enough teams to have one. Ohio State jumped TCU in the final ranking to earn a spot after a 59-0 win over No. 17 Wisconsin.

“All I can say is I think that all four teams that are in this certainly earned their way into this by how they played, what they did, the accomplishments that they were able to make over an entire body of work, and how they finish the season probably had something to do with that, whether it was win a conference championship or play very well at the end of the season,” Saban said. “So, I have no opinion about who should or who shouldn’t have. I don’t see all those teams play. I don’t know.”

Blake Sims and his success

Fifth-year senior Blake Sims was the hero Alabama needed. After spending years bouncing around positions and playing on the scout team, he came into his own in historic fashion.

As a first-year starter, he set Alabama’s single-season passing record with 3,250 yards. He has 26 passing touchdowns and 6 rushing scores.

“I think that going from a guy who most people thought could not be successful as a quarterback at Alabama to a guy who set the single season passing record and the total offensive production for a season at the University of Alabama, that includes a lot of really good football players in the past, I think is an accomplishment that holds great significance and should be recognized based on what a great job he did in making that happen for himself and for our team,” Saban said. “And then to go back [to Atlanta] and be the most inspirational player on the team as MVP of the SEC championship game, I can’t say enough about all that Blake Sims has done to contribute to the success of our team.”

T.J. Yeldon a gametime decision

Junior running back T.J. Yeldon has been ruled a pre-game decision, Saban said. Yeldon has been limited due to a hamstring injury. Saban said he has been able to practice every day the team’s been in New Orleans.

“We’re very hopeful that he’ll be able to make a contribution in this game,” Saban said.

This season, Yeldon has 932 net yards rushing and 10 scores on the ground. He has 180 yards receiving and one touchdown in the air.

Keeping up with Cardale Jones

The Buckeyes’ quarterback Cardale Jones has started one game at Ohio State: the Big 10 Championship Game. Jones went from the third-team quarterback to starter and put up 257 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin in his only game on tape.

Saban said the team has thought Ohio State would work a two-quarterback system with Jalin Marshall and Jones. He said the Buckeyes have quarterback run plays they could implement even without a true quarterback under center.

“So we’ve kind of looked at that as something that is a great possibility and tried to practice some of those scenarios,” Saban said. “Now, what they do and how they do it, we have no real clue other than what they’ve done to this point. But we do have respect for both guys and what their abilities are and what they can do. And I think our players are going to have to adjust to both the players in the game.”

The Allstate Sugar Bowl is set to kickoff at 7:30 p.m. CT on Jan. 1 on ESPN.