Kansas State football coach Chris Klieman is glad it will be a few weeks before the Wildcats will leave for New Orleans and play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Trying to come down from one of the biggest victories in program history (a 31-28 overtime victory against TCU in the Big 12 championship game) while also preparing for an opponent like the Crimson Tide on a traditional time frame would have been extremely challenging.
“We’re gonna get to a good chunk of time where us as coaches are on the road and the guys are away from football for a little bit,” Klieman said. “They will be able to rejuvenate and recharge a little bit and come back and have a couple good weeks of preparation.”
It feels surreal that Klieman and his Wildcats are about to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban and one of the most iconic teams in all of college football at 11 a.m. on Dec. 31 inside the Superdome.
But that is the type of postseason you get when you win the Big 12.
The game is nearly a full month away. But it’s never too early to start looking ahead to it. Here are five things to know about Alabama:
Nick Saban’s first impressions on Kansas State
Alabama football coach Nick Saban didn’t watch Kansas State’s victory over TCU on Saturday in the Big 12 championship game. He was too busy hosting recruits on visits and appearing on national TV to try to convince the country that the Crimson Tide were worthy of a playoff invite.
So he doesn’t know all that much about the Wildcats. But he respected the job Bill Snyder did in Manhattan, and he has also been impressed with what Chris Klieman has done during his four seasons on the job.
“Our team was really excited about having the opportunity to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against a really, really good opponent like Kansas State,” Saban said. “They’ve just come off a great win in their conference championship game. Coach Chris Klieman has done a fantastic job there with their team.
“This is certainly going to be a challenging game for us. It’s a great on defense, they’ve got two really good quarterbacks, they’ve got a really great running back and there’s a lot of diversity in what they do. They’re a very well-coached team, so our team needs to bounce back and show that they’re excited about the opportunity that we have to play against a top-notch team that was a conference champion.”
How many Alabama players will opt out of the Sugar Bowl?
The Crimson Tide will bring more players with them to the Sugar Bowl than the LSU Tigers did last season for the Texas Bowl, but it is not realistic to expect them to be at full strength for this game.
Several of Alabama’s top NFL Draft prospects may decide to opt out of this game and begin focusing on their pro careers. Quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson are two players that might be done with college football now that the Crimson Tide missed the playoff.
It sounds like Saban is expecting at least some of his players to skip this game.
“We’re going to coach the players that are there,” Saban said, “and try to coach them to do the best possible job that they can. We certainly have a great amount of appreciation and respect for the guys who are going to finish the season with the team.”
There is also a chance that some K-State players might skip this game. Chris Klieman said it would be naive to automatically assume the entire roster will play. But that is less of a concern for the Wildcats, as this is their first major bowl game in a decade. It is more of a consolation prize for Alabama.
Alabama has struggled in the Sugar Bowl before
The Crimson Tide have been far from invincible at the Sugar Bowl when the stakes are low.
Nick Saban twice recently took Alabama to the Sugar Bowl when it wasn’t doubling as a semifinal game in the playoff and suffered a loss. Utah defeated Alabama 31-17 in 2009 and Oklahoma upset Alabama 35-19 inside the Superdome in 2014.
It’s clear that convincing his roster to be motivated for this game is a top priority for Saban this time around.
How the Crimson Tide got here
Alabama began the season ranked at No. 1 and went on to have a disappointing regular season by its standards.
The Crimson Tide finished 10-2 and missed out on the SEC championship game. Their losses came by narrow margins against Tennessee and LSU, with both defeats coming on the final play of the game.
Quarterback Bryce Young threw for 3,007 yards and 27 touchdowns this season and defensive back DeMarcco Hellams led the defense with 95 tackles.
Alabama and K-State share one common opponent: Texas. The Crimson Tide beat the Longhorns on the road 20-19 early in the season. K-State lost at home to Texas 34-27.
Chris Klieman’s first impressions of Alabama
Both coaches exchanged the opposite of bulletin-board material when they spoke with the media on Saturday.
Saban said nice things about the Wildcats and Klieman returned the favor about the Crimson Tide.
“Our guys will be excited about a heck of a challenge to play (against) an awesome program like Alabama,” Klieman said. “I have so much respect for Coach Saban and what he’s done for for college football ... I know our guys, when they saw Alabama come up, they were excited about getting a chance to play one of the traditional powers for decades.”