Alabama is heading into the College Football Playoff as the top seed with a 13-0 record that has transpired by an average score of 48-15.
That should not, according to Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, be confused with a team entering its Dec. 29 semifinal date against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl with a lot of momentum.
LIVE with the joint news conference featuring the four #CFBPlayoff Semifinal coaches: @AlabamaFTBL's Nick Saban, @ClemsonFB's Dabo Swinney, @NDFootball's @CoachBrianKelly and @OU_Football's @LincolnRiley!#RollTide #AllIn #GoIrish #BoomerSooner https://t.co/rtwzdv8C3a— College Football Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) December 6, 2018
"I don't think we finished the season as well as we started it," Saban said. "I don't know if our team got a little bit tired mentally and physically. You always want your team to be playing its best at the end, and I certainly think that we're capable of playing better."
The Crimson Tide are scheduled to begin on-campus preparations for the Sooners on Friday.
Alabama began this season with an offensive flourish reflected in eight mesmerizing routs in which the Tide surpassed 50 points six times and sophomore starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sat out each of those fourth quarters. The start of November resulted in Alabama's defense upstaging its offense in shutout victories over LSU (29-0) and Mississippi State (24-0).
The Tide's explosive offense was on display again when they closed the regular season against The Citadel and Auburn, but not until the third quarter in both of those games. Alabama and The Citadel played to a 10-10 standoff in the first 30 minutes of an eventual 50-17 blowout, and the Tide took a 17-14 advantage into the third quarter of the Iron Bowl before breaking free for a 58-21 triumph.
As a two-touchdown favorite over Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship contest on Dec. 1, Alabama trailed 28-14 and was getting outgained by 205 yards when Bulldogs kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 30-yard field-goal attempt midway through the third quarter. The Tide capitalized on that reprieve, with backup quarterback Jalen Hurts replacing an injured Tagovailoa early in the fourth quarter and rallying Alabama to a 35-28 win.
The 2018 SEC title contest may be remembered as one of the most dramatic wins in Alabama history, but it was anything but dominant in the eyes of Saban.
"I think we want to focus on learning lessons from some of the things that happened to us in this last game, as well as the two previous games, where I thought we could have played better and with a little more consistency," he said. "Hopefully we'll learn from those lessons and be able to make some improvements and get some guys healthy to where we can hopefully play better."
This time last year, Alabama was in the process of showing noticeable improvement between a 26-14 loss at Auburn and a 24-6 thumping of Clemson in a Sugar Bowl national semifinal. The Tide defense allowed 408 yards and more than 36 minutes of possession time during the Iron Bowl but bounced back to hold Clemson to 188 yards.
The improved health of outside linebackers Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller aided Alabama's sharp rise in performance, and Saban is hopeful the time off this month and the practices ahead can result in a superior team in Miami compared to recent games.
Tagovailoa's ankle status certainly will be worth tracking between now and the Orange Bowl kickoff.
"I should be good by the time the game comes," Tagovailoa told reporters last week in New York. "It's a matter of when I'm going to play and when I start to practice."
This article is written by David Paschall from Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.