Alabama, seeded number one in college football final four tournament, squares off against Ohio St. in the Sugar Bowl with the winner advancing to the finals the next week. Nick Saban discussed his team with the national media on Sunday:
THE MODERATOR: We’re going to start with head coach Nick Saban from the University of Alabama, ranked No. 1 in the college football rankings. Coach, go ahead and make a brief opening statement, and then we’ll open it up to the questions.
COACH SABAN: This is obviously a great opportunity and a real honor for our team to be able to come back to the Sugar Bowl, to be a part of the first?ever playoff system playing against an outstanding, very traditional, a great traditioned program like Ohio State, with a great coach like Urban Meyer.
So this is a real opportunity for us. There’s a great history between Alabama and the Sugar Bowl through the years and all the way back to Coach Bryant. And we’ve been there several times, and we also enjoy New Orleans, and we certainly enjoy the hospitality that the people at the Sugar Bowl offer us.
Q. Just talk about the season. Do you think that Texas A&M game was kind of the turning point to get things rolling? Because you obviously had the talent. Seemed like it just meshed up at that point. And just turned things around for you. And also regarding the UAB situation, is there anything you can do regarding that due to the circumstances?
COACH SABAN: Well, the first part of your question, I really think that our team came together in the Arkansas game. It was a rough day. Bad weather. Arkansas is a very good team. Probably an underrated team.
We were in a real dogfight with them. And made some plays at the end of the game to win the game. And I saw an energy and enthusiasm in our players that I hadn’t really seen before. And I think we really became a team. And I think after that game you saw them play really well against Texas Texas A&M. But I think it was a result of what happened at Arkansas.
I really don’t know what you’re asking me about UAB. I mean, we hate to see any player, coach or anybody else get uprooted by the fact that they discontinue a program. But we also respect the business aspects of what people have to do in terms of making decisions about whether they can afford to have a program from a financial standpoint.
Q. Just want to ask you about your relationship with Urban Meyer, how you describe it and the games that you’ve had in the past?
COACH SABAN: I have a tremendous amount of respect for Urban. And we’ve done some things, the ESPN games and stuff together, and I consider him a good friend and certainly have a tremendous amount of personal respect for the kind of professional he is and the kind of coach he is and the kind of programs he’s had, the great teams that he’s had at Florida.
And I know that we haven’t had much of an opportunity to look at Ohio State yet. But we certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for what their team has accomplished this year and know that they’ll be a very, very well?coached team.
Q. As good as Amari Cooper has been over the years, what specific areas did he improve or hone maybe to have the kind of production he had this year?
COACH SABAN: Well, I think that Amari’s gotten better and better every year because he’s a hard worker and really a prideful guy in terms of his performance. And I just think he’s played with a lot more consistency this year and his focus has been better. He hasn’t let little things bother him, whether it’s a little nagging injury or whatever and has just been kind of a demon every time the game comes in terms of how he competes. And we’ve used him and featured him and he certainly has taken advantage of those opportunities.
Q. How does playing in the SEC prepare you guys for what you’re going to face in this playoff situation?
COACH SABAN: I think that we played a lot of good teams in the SEC and we know there’s a lot of other good teams around the country. And I think that all these teams are conference champions, which means they have really kind of earned their way in wherever they’ve played or whatever conference they’ve played.
And all of them play in outstanding conferences to have a chance to play in this playoff system. So I think the more good teams you play against, obviously the more your players know about how to prepare for good opponents together and we know we’re going to see a really good team in Ohio State in this playoff game.
Q. When Urban Meyer got to Ohio State, some people said that he was going to bring sort of like an SEC?style of play to Ohio State. What do you think that means, when a team place like an SEC team, what does that say to you?
COACH SABAN: Oh, boy, I don’t know. I think you’d be better off asking him what he meant by that. I can’t really speak for him. I don’t really necessarily see a different style here. I just see a great passion with a lot of great programs and a great league that’s very, very competitive and a lot of built?in rivalries. And I coached in the Big Ten. There were a lot of those same things there. So I really don’t know what that necessarily means.
Q. Cardale Jones has only played one game this year for Ohio State. What are the challenges for preparing for a quarterback where there’s only limited film available?
COACH SABAN: Well, obviously he played very, very well when he played. And I think that’s the key thing that a guy has the capabilities to play. Blake started out this season where he hadn’t played in any games and he certainly did a good job of playing and improving, becoming a great leader for his team and making a lot of plays that got his team where they are.
So I’m not sure that we’re going to be able to see him?? everything that he’s capable of doing, but we certainly have a lot of respect for the way he’s played when he’s played.
Q. When asked about the quarterback situation this summer, you always seem to mention Blake Sims. You don’t ever want to talk about Coker. And you mentioned yesterday progressively you’ve been tinkering with tempo. How much better can Blake Sims be now that he’s got 15 Bowl practices and an actual camp?like setting to actually be the true number one guy without any real distractions?
COACH SABAN: He hasn’t had any distractions all year. He’s been the true number one guy all year long. He’s done a good job for us. I think everybody looks to him as our quarterback. And so I don’t really understand what you’re asking me. There’s never been a quarterback controversy. There’s never been?? he won the job and he has played well for us and we are where we are because of the things that he’s done and what our entire team has done to get us here.
Q. I was wondering, obviously when Urban was at Florida, you guys were always going after the best players in recruiting. And I didn’t know if you still see him on the recruiting trail a good bit as far as guys you’re going after. And we had a kid specifically from the Chattanooga area, Vonn Bell, that you guys were interested in. And he wound up going to Ohio State. I was just kind of seeing if you still go up against him a lot in recruiting and what you remember about Vonn Bell?
COACH SABAN: Well, we thought Vonn Bell was an outstanding player and certainly wanted him in our program. I think if he was in our program right now he would be a very productive player for us. We see Urban a lot in recruiting. And I know last year there were two or three players that we wanted that they got. And there was a couple that they wanted that we got.
And I think that if you have one of the top programs and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for the energy in recruiting that Urban and his staff and their organization has in trying to go after some of the best players, identifying them and going after them. Obviously they’ve done a great job of recruiting there and that’s why they have a very good team and that’s why they’re going to be in this playoff.
So we have a tremendous amount of respect for the way they recruit.