ATLANTA (AP) — No. 1 Alabama and coach Nick Saban are the closest the College Football Playoff has to seasoned veterans.
The fourth-ranked Washington Huskies are new on the scene. Both teams have arrived in Atlanta to resume preparation for Saturday’s Peach Bowl semifinal game at the Georgia Dome.
The Crimson Tide (13-0) is 3 for 3 in making the playoffs so far, winning it all last season and falling to eventual champion Ohio State two years ago.
“What I’ve learned about this game is the mind-set of: Is this a bowl game or is this a playoff game, which I think every player has to decide for himself, every coach has to decide for himself,” Saban said Monday. “Because we are trying to create a balance for everyone in our organization because it is a playoff game.”
Despite Saban’s past lamentations that the playoff format has diminished the importance of bowl games for some, there’s no denying the different level of stakes for this one.
The pecking order for the game is clear, too.
Alabama had a quick flight from the next state over. The Huskies (12-1) flew some 2,500 miles to arrive Sunday night as two-touchdown underdogs, the biggest spread of any of this week’s bowl games. Washington coach Chris Petersen is no stranger to being the underdog, or to pulling off upsets going back to his days at Boise State.
Unlike Alabama, Petersen’s Huskies are in an unfamiliar spot. But he doesn’t think this team has been affected by big-game hype so far this season.
“There’d be a certain game that we played that, ‘This is going to be a big game, the biggest one of the season,'” Petersen said. “We would just kind of chuckle and say, ‘It doesn’t matter who we play. That next game is always the most important game.’
“I think that’s been one of the beauties of this team. They’ve been very focused all season long.”
The Pac-12 champions bring a high-powered offense led by quarterback Jake Browning against the nation’s top defense, which helped power the Tide to an SEC championship at the same stadium four weeks before the semifinal matchup.
Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington
Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington x
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Peach Bowl: Alabama vs. Washington
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Saban said there was a “significant difference” in how well the team prepared last season compared to two years ago.
A wealth of big-game experience has taught him, and presumably the team’s veterans, not to adopt the mentality either that they have to play over their heads or get too relaxed with the attitude that, “I’m not going to let the situation affect me.”
Saban wants this players and coaches to just be themselves.
“The field is going to be 53 yards wide and 100 yards deep,” Saban said. “I don’t think they’re changing any of that. They’re not changing the markings on the field.
“What you have to do to execute well, whether it’s block properly, tackle properly, catch the ball, throw the ball. Those things really aren’t going to change. I know from a fan’s perspective, the significance of these types of games create tremendous emotions and anxiety. But as competitors and players we’re hopeful that that doesn’t happen.”
Petersen wants his players to enjoy the visit to Atlanta during their down time, like any other road trip.
“Even when we travel just in a normal away game, we always want them to enjoy and appreciate the moment,” he said. “We want them to appreciate the different venues and different hostile environments we go into.
“That’s part of this whole thing, this college football, the pageantry. There’s nothing like it. Pro football’s not like it. It’s just different.”