PHOTO: USA Today Sports
The Sugar Bowl used to be the goal of every SEC team. Now, with the BCS system in place, the Sugar Bowl can be seen as a bit of a letdown for teams that had National Championship aspirations. The last time the Alabama Crimson Tide played in this bowl, they came up short as they fell to Utah by 14 points. Alabama was 12-0 in that 2008 season before they lost to Florida in a #1 vs #2 match-up and "fell" to the Sugar Bowl. Alabama looked like they didn't want to be in that game and got beat by a Utah team that didn't have the talent the Tide had. Will the Crimson Tide fall into a similar trap this season?
Under Nick Saban, the Tide has turned into a dynasty by winning three BCS National Championship Games from 2009 to 2012. It has to be a disappointment to these players not being able to play in the big game and especially when you consider that they were knocked out of the National Championship Game by their rival, the Auburn Tigers, in a shocking fashion. While this team does have similarities with the 2008 team, I don't think they will fall into the same trap.
In 2008, Alabama was still in the second year of the Nick Saban regime and was still learning how to play Saban-ball and hadn't built up the depth that they have now. While the 2008 team had some really good wins (winning on the road against #3 Georgia and #15 LSU) they still hadn't learned to win on the big stage as they had lost their biggest game of the year, against Florida.
Much like this year with AJ McCarron, in 2008 the Tide had senior leadership at QB in John Parker Wilson. The difference between JPW and AJ is that McCarron has the experience of playing in the big games and winning multiple times on the biggest stage. Playing in his final game for the Tide, this will be an important game for McCarron especially when you consider just how important he has been to this run of Championships for the Tide. His teammates will want to send him out as a winner in his final game.
Lastly, Saban has that loss to Utah to he can point his players towards. It can be used as an individual teaching tool by showing how one player making a wrong decision (see: left tackle Andre Smith) can impact one aspect of the game (Smith was suspended and Utah's front seven dominated with eight sacks) and it can be a team teaching tool showing what can happen when you underestimate your opponent. The Tide's opponent in this game, the Oklahoma Sooners, have name recognition but they are still a bit unheralded but I wouldn't expect the Tide to make the same mistakes they made in 2008.