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Sugar Bowl wrap-up: What will this game mean for Alabama’s future?

Sugar Bowl wrap-up: What will this game mean for Alabama’s future?

By the time Oklahoma recovered the final kickoff – a so-bad-it-was-funny moment that served as the perfect capper to the 2014 Sugar Bowl – the time for mulling over what might have been was long gone.

For the second time in six years, Alabama laid an egg in the Sugar Bowl to an inferior team. But in that regard, the 2014 game was at least an improvement over the 2009 Sugar Bowl, since Oklahoma, unlike Utah, was a worthy opponent.

Twice now under Nick Saban, Alabama has lost a title shot after Thanksgiving and ended up in New Orleans playing for pride. Both times, the results left Alabama fans wondering whether anyone on the team seemed to care.

Sugar Bowl preview: Tide must ignore waves of disappointment to beat Sooners

The 2008 Crimson Tide team opened the season with 12 straight victories, only to lose a potential national title shot at the hands of Florida and quarterback Tim Tebow in the SEC Championship Game. While Alabama was admittedly ahead of schedule in even getting to the game in the first place, the loss was still a bitter pill and served as motivation for the entire 2009 year. Highlights of the 2009 SEC Championship Game, for instance, make their appearance in Alabama’s pregame video under the headline “Redemption.”

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Auburn preview: Alabama finds unexpected roadblock on way to another title

There’s really no other way to say it – Alabama didn’t see this coming.

Few people thought Auburn would be as bad as it was in 2012, but the number of people who expected the Tigers to be 10-1 and just on the outside of a BCS Championship Game matchup probably wouldn’t be enough to fill a taxicab. And that’s including Lee County residents.

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LSU preview: Tigers looking to play the spoiler role in T-Town

For the entirety of Nick Saban’s tenure as Alabama head coach, the Alabama-LSU game has held special meaning, and not just because Saban used to coach in Baton Rouge.

Almost every year the two teams have met, something important has been on the line for both teams, usually involving the SEC West lead or even a top-5 ranking. But this year is a bit different. While Alabama comes into the game ranked No. 1 in the country and with much still to play for, LSU is all but out of both the national title race and the race for an SEC championship.

And it wasn’t completely unexpected. LSU suffered substantial losses on the defensive side of the ball after the 2012 season concluded, and this is not the throat-choking juggernaut of a team that is has been in previous seasons. LSU is a rather average 50th in rushing defense, and the secondary, while still very good, isn’t filled with the same lockdown-style athletes as opponents are accustomed to facing. But offensively, this team has gone from being strong to very dangerous, thanks to an upgrade at the offensive coordinator position.

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Arkansas preview: Razorbacks in transition, Alabama looking for domination

For Alabama fans who appreciate nostalgia, they’ll get plenty of it when Arkansas comes to town this week.

Why? Because they’ll swear Danny Ford was back in Fayetteville.

Bret Bielema took over the Arkansas program this spring after John L. Smith was mercifully let go after a season that could justifiably be called the most disappointing – relative to expectations – in the history of Arkansas football. The Razorbacks were coming off a string of high-scoring seasons under Bob Petrino, and the program was threatening to punch into the elite of the SEC West.

And then Bob Petrino got in a motorcycle accident, got caught lying about an affair and was relieved of his duties as the Razorback head coach. The coach of the Hogs had been thrown off his Hog and was found to have been acting like a pig.

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Kentucky wrap-up: Dominant Tide begins to put the pieces together

The middle of the season seems to mark a tipping point for Nick Saban-coached Alabama football teams.

If one doesn’t count the initial 2007 season, the following key games occurred at or near the midpoint of Saban’s other seasons: In 2008, Alabama’s fifth game of the year was the now-infamous “Blackout” game in Athens, Ga., where the Tide won 41-30 in a game that was made respectable only by a couple of late Georgia touchdowns well after the results had been decided. In 2009, Saban’s first championship season with the Crimson Tide, the seventh game of the year came against South Carolina in Tuscaloosa, otherwise known as the game that won Mark Ingram a Heisman Trophy.

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Texas A&M preview: Alabama must solve the Johnny Football riddle

For once, Alabama seemed to have been graced with a manageable schedule. After years of the Crimson Tide suffering through Roy Kramer-era schedules rife with curious off-week placement, unbalanced off-week rotations with opponents and frequent stacking of contender-quality opposition, the 2013 Tide schedule must have looked like a vacation at first glance.

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Virginia Tech review: Bama beats Beamerball at its own game

Alabama has looked choppy in openers before, including the last time these two teams met in Atlanta. But Alabama is playing a different game than Virginia Tech or approximately 110 other Division-IA programs are in 2013: Alabama is shooting for a national championship, and the product Alabama put on the field Saturday will have to improve by leaps and bounds to avoid being upset along the way. Alabama’s offense looked, quite frankly, inept. Aside from a couple of outstanding individual plays from running back T.J. Yeldon and one long pass play by A.J. McCarron to – who else? – Christion Jones, the Tide offense was badly out of sorts for most of the game.

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Signing Day 2013 could lead to No. 16 in 2014

The Crimson Tide followed up national championship No. 15 last month with another recruiting national championship this month. Alabama signed the top class in the country, just as it did last year, which means for anyone wishing for a Tide backslide, it won’t happen due to a regression in the total talent level anytime soon.

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