ARLINGTON, Texas — Much has been made of Alabama’s different approach to the College Football Playoff this December.
The changes might be simpler than we think.
“I’ve been going to bed early the past couple days,” star linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “About 9 o’clock. I’m trying to focus in, get my energy and be rested up for the game.”
Ragland was one of several Tide players who said some basic factors are helping them focus on Michigan State.
For instance: Location.
“There ain’t nothing to do here,” linebacker Tim Williams said. “It’s boring.”
Last December, Alabama was sleeping within walking distance of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. The curfew was 1 a.m. on the first two nights.
This weekend, players were shuttered in at midnight, and are currently under an 11 o’clock curfew during game week. Their hotel is near a shopping center and not much else.
“New Orleans is a big party city,” linebacker Anfernee Jennings said. “Dallas is a country. Texas is big. There ain’t nothing to do. You’re just coming to play football.”
Players have been sticking to the “game room,” a large ballroom at their hotel that features arcade games, video games, pool and “little drone things,” among other distractions.
There are old-school options, too.
“I usually play dominoes ’til 10 o’clock,” linebacker Denzel Devall said. “Then I’m out.”
The new curfew and bleak, stormy surroundings leave the players with little but their will to erase a disappointing national semifinal loss on Jan. 1.
Focus is a team-wide goal. Listen to these guys:
Ragland: “It means more to people this year. You can tell. Everybody’s on time. Everybody’s focused in. Everybody’s doing their job.”
Punter JK Scott: “This year, the team’s much, much more focused and together on the same path. We have the same goals.”
Safety Geno Matias-Smith: “(The curfew) is what we needed. A lot more guys are focused. A lot more guys are ready to play the game.”
Offensive lineman Dominick Jackson: “After the bad taste that was left in our mouth from last year, everybody wants to finish this year. It hurt how we went out last year.”
No matter who you talk to, the narrative does not break.
“We just want to show the world that coach Saban’s dynasty isn’t over,” Jackson said. “We want to be great like the greats that were here before us.”
Thursday’s game could draw Alabama closer to its fourth national title since Saban came to town in 2007.
For previously unforeseen reasons, Dallas might be the perfect place to get back to basics.
“One thing he really proved to us last year: If you don’t buy in and you don’t trust the process, this is what happens,” Jackson said. “How about, let’s try trusting the process and see where it gets us.”