Alabama head coach Nick Saban has a few challenges to prepare his team for in advance of the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl matchup against No. 11 Oklahoma.
For the first time in the last three seasons, the holiday wish list for supporters of Alabama’s football program won’t include a victory in the BCS national title game.
However, with the recent finalization of Nick Saban’s contract extension, Tide fans can breathe a sigh of relief now that college football’s current premier coach will reside in Tuscaloosa for the foreseeable future.
With Saban in the fold for the long haul, there are a few adjustments he and his staff will look to make in in advance of the Sugar Bowl matchup against Oklahoma on Jan. 2., as well as others that will come before the 2014 season.
So, what is on Coach Saban’s wish list this holiday season?
Alabama is in somewhat unfamiliar territory given that it will not be playing in the BCS title game. With his team out of the title hunt, Saban has a unique opportunity to reboot his program.
The last time Alabama played in a non-title bowl game, it destroyed Michigan State, 49-7, in the 2010 Capital One Bowl.
That victory served as a springboard into the 2011 season, which ended with a national title.
New leaders such as AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley emerged after that game, and Saban is likely searching for young players who can fill those important roles with those two players moving on.
Saban is notorious for his relentless work ethic.
However, as Michael Casagrande of AL.com details, the arrival of his first grandchild has given him reason to take a break.
Even though he has a BCS bowl to prepare for, getting some time to enjoy the latest addition to his family should bring him a little extra joy during the holiday season.
For the final time in his career, recent Maxwell Award winner and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron will lead the Tide into battle against the Sooners.
However, with the added practices the team gets during bowl preparation, Saban will get a chance to view the progress of some of his younger players who will be counted upon next year.
In particular, he will have his eyes on a group of quarterbacks who are competing for the right to succeed McCarron.
While there isn’t a clear-cut favorite in a competition that could include as many as six different players, Saban will get some extra time to see if one of the participants in the derby can gain some separation before spring practice.
Since the regular season ended for the Tide last month, the biggest drama surrounding the team involved Saban’s future.
Although his name had been linked to the Texas job for much of the year, Tide fans likely exhaled when the university announced an extension that will net Saban a salary of $7 million per season, according to Nick Bromberg of Yahoo! Sports.
During his tenure at Alabama, Saban has resisted overtures from NFL clubs and several schools. His latest extension is another strong signal that Tuscaloosa will be the final destination of his illustrious coaching career.
Considering the Tide’s recent history of playing in BCS title games and the way the season ended with a heartbreaking last-second loss to archrival Auburn, there are skeptics who doubt whether Alabama enters the Sugar Bowl with the motivation necessary to compete at a high level.
However, this game represents an opportunity for the Tide to erase their bitter defeat in the season finale and end their season with a third consecutive BCS bowl victory.
Saban’s main goal is to get his team to forget about those questions and focus on delivering a strong effort against the Sooners.
While his team prepares for the Sugar Bowl, Saban and his staff used the early part of the month to build upon a 2014 recruiting class already billed as the nation’s best, according to 247Sports.
With precious few spots left in the Tide’s class, Saban has his club positioned well to land several blue-chip recruits that would seal another top-rated class on national signing day.
Saban is one of the best closers in the business, so expect the Tide to finish strong and wrap up another banner class in February.