ATLANTA (AP) — No. 1 Alabama and coach Nick Saban are the closest the College Football Playoff has to seasoned veterans.
The fourth-ranked Washington Huskies are new on the scene. Both teams arrived in Atlanta Monday to resume preparation for Saturday’s Peach Bowl semifinal game at the Georgia Dome.
The Crimson Tide (13-0) is 3 for 3 in making the playoffs so far, winning it all last season and falling to eventual champion Ohio State two years ago.
“What I’ve learned about this game is the mind-set of: Is this a bowl game or is this a playoff game, which I think every player has to decide for himself, every coach has to decide for himself,” Saban said. “Because we are trying to create a balance for everyone in our organization because it is a playoff game.”
Despite Saban’s past lamentations that the playoff format has diminished the importance of bowl games for some, there’s no denying the different level of stakes for this one.
The pecking order for the game is clear, too.
Alabama had a quick flight from the next state over. The Huskies (12-1) flew some 2,500 miles to arrive as two-touchdown underdogs, the biggest spread of any of this week’s bowl games. Washington coach Chris Petersen is no stranger to being the underdog, or of pulling off big upsets going back to his days at Boise State.
The Pac-12 champions bring a high-powered offense led by quarterback Jake Browning against the nation’s top defense, which helped power the Tide to an SEC championship at the same stadium four weeks before the semifinal matchup.
Saban said there was a “significant difference” in how well the team prepared last season compared to two years ago.
A wealth of big-game experience has taught him, and presumably the team’s veterans, not to adopt the mentality either that they have to play over their heads or get too relaxed with the attitude that, “I’m not going to let the situation affect me.”
Saban wants this players and coaches to just be themselves.
“The field is going to be 53 yards wide and 100 yards deep,” Saban said. “I don’t think they’re changing any of that. They’re not changing the markings on the field.
“What you have to do to execute well, whether it’s block properly, tackle properly, catch the ball, throw the ball. Those things really aren’t going to change. I know from a fan’s perspective, the significance of these types of games create tremendous emotions and anxiety. But as competitors and players we’re hopeful that that doesn’t happen.”