ATLANTA — Heading into its third consecutive College Football Playoff appearance, Alabama football has plenty of experience to rely on when preparing for this potential two-game run.
No. 1 Alabama faces No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl semifinal on Dec. 31. Kickoff from Atlanta is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET on ESPN.
In 2014, Alabama lost to eventual-national champion Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl semifinal. Last season, Alabama pounded Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl semifinal before winning a thriller against Clemson in the national championship game.
Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said there was a “sense of arrogance” surrounding the 2014 group. Alabama was coming off a dominant SEC championship game earlier that month. Ohio State, which blasted Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, entered the contest with its third-string quarterback, and many pundits counted the Buckeyes out. So did Alabama.
“I feel like in 2014 — I’m not gonna lie — everybody was kind of complacent,” Allen said. “We thought we were going to beat Ohio State, me included. We didn’t really work like we needed to do.
“After we lost to Ole Miss last year, we played pissed off the whole season. Everybody counted us out. I know that sounds cliche, but they really did. It was hell. It was honestly hell for those two months after we lost to Ole Miss. That stuck with us all the way through the end of the season.”
Alabama was a betting favorite over the Buckeyes in 2014, and the Tide are heavy favorites heading into their matchup against Washington.
Look no further than the early betting lines to get a sense for how this game is being viewed. Alabama opened as a 14-point favorite and is currently a 16-point favorite, according to VegasInsider.com.
Alabama shouldn’t have a problem avoiding complacency this time.
“Anybody who was on that team when we lost to Ole Miss and knows how that felt, they’re not going to relax at this point. They’re not going to take it easy,” Allen said. “All the seniors, we were here when we lost to Auburn, and we felt like we could have beat them. Ohio State (two years ago), we just let the game slip away from us. Those are teaching moments you never get away from and you never really forget.”
As for the freshmen or younger players who didn’t play much last year, Allen said he and the older guys are leading by example to show them what to do to avoid a loss.
Allen said the coaches and the leadership group are on top of the players to ensure everyone is preparing well for the playoffs.
“Like coach (Nick) Saban says, it means more when a player tells you to do something than a coach all the time,” Allen said. “If a coach tells you to do something all the time, you may start to block it out. If a player tells you to do something, I feel like that’s something kind of special, and I feel like we do a good job of that.”
Star left tackle Cam Robinson was a true freshman during the 2014 run. He was focused on “just trying to stay out of the way,” but he, too, noticed a dip in focus that postseason.
That wasn’t the case last year as Alabama was “more prepared and ready to play,” Robinson said. Robinson won’t let it happen to this group, either.
“Complacency is not even an option at this point,” Robinson said. “If you’re in the locker room or anywhere in our facility, complacency is nowhere on our mind. We know we’re not close to where we want to be, and we’re not even close to being done.”
Though the players are going to do their part from a leadership standpoint, the coaching staff is more prepared to handle a potential two-game run in this sort of winner-take-all format.
Saban said he and the Crimson Tide’s coaching staff learned how to properly prepare the players given the long break between the SEC championship game and the semifinal as well as what to do if the Tide make it back to the College Football Playoff championship game.
“I think last year we did a little better job of giving the players an adequate amount of time off, not practicing too much before that game. Played well against Michigan State,” Saban said during an interview with ESPN. “Then, you really have to manage the next week — if you have the opportunity to get to it — a little bit differently.
“I didn’t think we did as good a job of getting ready for Clemson in the championship game as we did for Michigan State. That’s something that we’ll tweak and change if we get the opportunity to, but we have to play them one game at a time at this point.”