NEW ORLEANS -- For the first time since 2010, it's not all about Alabama. The team that won back-to-back BCS national titles is closing out the BCS era in one of the big games, but it isn't the one most expected.
You just have to wonder if the sugar will still taste as sweet for the Crimson Tide if No. 3 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) defeats 11th-ranked Oklahoma (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) in Thursday's Allstate Sugar Bowl.
From all accounts, it appears this team is focused and ready for the Sooners. There won't be a shiny crystal football handed to Tide players with a win, but this team has too much pride and too much to prove to let that cloud their vision.
“We made up our minds that we finish the season right as seniors," senior defensive lineman Ed Stinson said. "We don’t want to end the season on a bad note. So we want to come out with a win.”
It would be so easy for the Tide to come out slowly and unmotivated. We saw it with Alabama in this same game at the conclusion of the 2008 season after the Tide lost out on a trip to the BCS title game after falling to Florida in the SEC title game. A month after losing a heartbreaker to Auburn, Alabama is in the same situation, but there's more of an edge to this team down in NOLA.
When players met with the media earlier this week, they looked relaxed. They smiled, they slouched in their seats, and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix even took time to do a mock interview with one of his teammates.
Maybe there's something in the beignets.
According to coach Nick Saban and players, practices have been upbeat and productive. Younger players used to the sights and sounds of a national championship atmosphere aren't down, as they've bought into the idea of sending the seniors out with a third straight BCS bowl win.
More importantly, the boss is happy, and when the boss is happy, everyone's happy.
"I think the players have done a good job in this bowl practice," Saban said. "I think they've worked hard. Maybe I'm getting too old, but I don't remember what bowl practice was like last year or the year before. I guess you need to ask them young'uns about that."
With the final day in pads winding down on Tuesday, it sounded like the players were pretty satisfied with the outcome each practice produced as well.
“Everybody came out with a lot of energy. We’re ready," Stinson said. "Everybody’s ready to play the game and show what we have been working for.”
And that mindset isn't new for the Tide. Before Alabama players made it down to the Crescent City, they were already talking about proving something against the Sooners. For a team so used to the finer games and moments, it's not overlooking the Sugar Bowl. It isn't downplaying its importance. It's looking to go out the way it's used to: with a win.
"I think for all of us it's sort of a respect thing," tight end Brian Vogler said. "We want to go out and prove to people that we're one of the best teams in the country. We may not be in the perfect scenario to show people that, not in the national championship. But we are in a BCS game and we have a high stage, a high platform to show people our abilities and we want to highlight those."