Alabama fell short of its annual expectation of being in the College Football Playoff.
Kansas State exceeded all expectations by winning the Big 12 championship.
The No. 5 Crimson Tide (10-2) and the No. 9 Wildcats (10-3) enter the Sugar Bowl on Saturday afternoon from different perspectives, but both teams say that being a warm-up for the CFP doesn’t diminish the importance of their game in New Orleans.
“This is not something that is not important to us,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We have a lot that we can prove in this game.”
The Tide and the Wildcats kick off ahead of the CFP semifinal clashes as No. 3 TCU plays No. 2 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State challenges No. 1 Georgia.
Alabama, which was ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll, can show that perhaps it should have been included in the playoff on Saturday. The Tide’s losses both came on the final play of the game against Tennessee and LSU, both of which were highly ranked at the time.
“It hasn’t gone as we wanted to this season,” running back Jahmyr Gibbs said. “So, we’re trying to finish the season off right.”
Quarterback Bryce Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, and star defender Will Anderson have said they will play in the Sugar Bowl, but 15 Alabama players have entered the transfer portal, per 247Sports.
Five of the departing players are offensive linemen and five more are wide receivers, leaving the Tide thin at those spots.
“We’re going to play a really good team that plays sort of old-fashioned, tough, very disciplined, well-coached,” Saban said. “So there’s not any way to make it easy to prepare for a team like that.”
Kansas State was unranked to start the season and didn’t enter the rankings until after it improved to 3-1 with a 41-34 victory at Oklahoma on Sept. 24. But it has remained ranked ever since and secured the Sugar Bowl berth with a 31-28 overtime victory against previously unbeaten TCU in the Big 12 title game Dec. 3.
“It didn’t even feel real for the first few days,” offensive lineman Hayden Gillum said. “It’s a surreal feeling and it’s special but we’ve got a great opportunity coming up and we’re gonna make the most of it, too.”
The Wildcats have not had any opt-outs and star running back Deuce Vaughn said he won’t decide about whether to leave early for the NFL until after the Sugar Bowl.
“The Sugar Bowl has been a game that I’ve wanted to play in since I was a little kid,” Vaughn said. “Everybody wants to finish the thing the right way.”
Alabama is favored by nearly a touchdown, but Kansas State has exceeded expectations all season.
“People are saying (the Tide) are having a down year for them and the fact that it’s a down year and they’re still ranked No. 5 tells you enough about Alabama,” Wildcats quarterback Will Howard said. “We get to measure ourselves against the best and we feel like we’re one of the best too.”
–Field Level Media