NEW ORLEANS -- After a fourth straight year of making the College Football Playoff, Alabama knows the drill this week.But after failing to win the Southeastern Conference championship and having to sweat out the CFP selection process, fourth-seeded Alabama (11-1) has a new sense of appreciation for its trip south to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl national semifinal on New Year's Day.
"It don't get old," junior linebacker Anfernee Jennings said last week. "We were one decision from not being here, so we (are) taking advantage of it, and we understand what's in front of us and what we have to do."
The Crimson Tide held one final off-site bowl practice Tuesday in Tuscaloosa after returning from a three-day holiday break. The team planned to make its way to the Big Easy early this morning.
But even though Alabama enters the week as a slight 3-point favorite over top-ranked Clemson (12-1), according to vegasinsider.com, there's a prevailing "us-against-the-world" underdog mentality within the Alabama locker room, especially given how it ended the regular season -- with a 26-14 loss at rival Auburn.
Tide players still haven't forgotten their final game last season either, when former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson led a last-minute touchdown drive to steal the national championship away from Alabama in the final second.
"They are a very good team. They put together a phenomenal season," Alabama tight end Hale Hentges said last week. "I mean, they beat us last year, so they have our number definitely. We're hungry, and we're going to keep that same mentality moving forward and hopefully try and win."
And that mission moves into full swing today when Alabama's team plane lands at the Louis Armstrong International Airport at approximately 10 a.m. CT.
Once on the ground, head coach Nick Saban, unanimous All-American defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and junior running back Damien Harris will briefly speak to the media on the airport tarmac.
Clemson is set to arrive in New Orleans later today at 3 p.m., where coach Dabo Swinney and two selected players will also talk to the media.
After press conferences Thursday morning featuring representatives of the Alabama offense and Clemson defense, the two teams will hit the field for the second of four on-site bowl practices later Thursday, with the fourth-seeded Tide drawing the opportunity to work out at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, site of the game, while Clemson practicing at nearby Tulane University.
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News conferences Friday will feature the Alabama defense and Clemson offense. The Sugar Bowl's official "media day" is set for Saturday at the Superdome, where both Alabama and Clemson rosters, including all on-field assistant coaches, will be made available to the media. The Tide will kick things off at 8 a.m. CT while the Tigers will start shortly after 9 a.m.
New Year's Eve will begin with day-before-game press conferences for both Clemson's Swinney and Alabama's Saban, which will include a joint photo shoot with the Sugar Bowl trophy.
Both teams will have pep rallies in the French Quarter for fans that made the trip to New Orleans, bookending the Sugar Bowl's New Year's Eve parade, a Mardi Gras-style event that will travel down Decatur Street between 3:30-5 p.m.
After that, it'll be straight back to work ahead of Monday night's prime time kickoff (7:45 p.m. CT) from the Superdome, where both Alabama and Clemson will battle for the opportunity to return to the national championship game for a third-consecutive season.
"We understand everything that comes with this game," Jennings said. "I personally don't necessarily like the whole system because it can set you up in the end. Like, we're going to New Orleans and we've just got to stay focused and know what we're going to and handle business and get a job done."
This article is written by Alex Byington from The Decatur Daily, Ala. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.