NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It's just great being part of the 75th Sugar Bowl, Alabama coach Nick Saban said Saturday.
"The Sugar Bowl has always had great games, great tradition, and great teams," he said. "Utah is certainly a great team as well — they are undefeated. We certainly understand what we need to do to play a great football game."
The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide faces the No. 7 Utes on Jan. 2. All but one player for Alabama (12-1) was arriving Saturday, Saban said.
Those who live within five hours of New Orleans — about a 4 1/2-hour drive from Tuscaloosa — made their own travel arrangements. "I don't have any worries about that. I trust our players. They go home all the time," Saban said earlier.
The university's athletic department booked flights for those farther afield.
Utah's (12-0) team plane arrived in New Orleans on Saturday, but a number of players weren't on it. Those spending Christmas vacation away from Salt Lake City are making their own arrangements; the university will cover their travel expenses, officials said.
The Crimson Tide started the year ranked No. 24 nationally, overshadowed before the season by Auburn and LSU. LSU (7-5) plays Georgia Tech (9-3) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve in Atlanta. Auburn, 5-7, ended its season with a 36-0 loss to the Tide, ending a six-year Alabama losing streak.
"I think the biggest thing that I learned this year is that when a team makes a commitment to certain standards of excellence they can achieve," Saban said. "No one really thought that much of this team in the preseason, but this team bought into togetherness, respect, trust, and what they wanted to accomplish."