NEW ORLEANS — Alabama arrived for the College Football Playoff semifinal on Wednesday downplaying any sort of revenge angle to its third CFP matchup against Clemson.
Instead, what coach Nick Saban and his players all see is an opportunity.
“I think that one of the statements I made last year after we didn’t succeed in the championship, don’t waste the failing,” Saban said shortly after arrival. “I didn’t think we finished very well [last year]. Your identity as a team starts with how you finish. This team has an opportunity to finish this season a little better than the last. I think we lost our identity a little bit in the last game, forgot who we were and what we needed to do to succeed. Feel fortunate to have the opportunity to rectify that in the playoffs.”
Alabama made it into the playoff as an at-large selection after losing to Auburn in the regular-season finale, denying the Crimson Tide an opportunity to win the SEC championship and control their own destiny. That selection caused some consternation in other parts of the country, as Alabama was selected over conference champions Ohio State and USC.
“We belong in the playoffs,” safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said. “We’re Alabama, not a lot of people like us, everybody is going to find an excuse for us not to be here. We are here for a reason.”
As for the confidence level on the team headed into the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Clemson on Jan. 1, Fitzpatrick said, “It’s pretty high. No reason for it not to be high.”
Alabama beat Clemson in the 2016 national championship game, then lost to Clemson in the national championship game last year. Fitzpatrick pushed aside the notion Alabama is tired of seeing Clemson, but also added the team hasn’t spent much time dwelling on last season’s result.
“We took the lessons from the game and apply it,” Fitzpatrick said. “Can’t really think about the loss. It’s not going to do any good.”