New Castle News

January 6, 2013

Saban, Kelly approach showdown from different experiences

By David Vantress
CNHI News Service

— All the hype, all the hoopla, all the pre-game media frenzy is over.

It’s time to play football.

No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama hit the field tonight at Sun Life Stadium in Miami in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.

It will be the seventh meeting between the two programs. The Irish have a 5-1 advantage in the overall series.

But the Crimson Tide, despite being ranked No. 2 behind the No. 1 Irish, come into tonight’s game as the clear choice. Alabama was favored by 10 points in the latest odds.

Coaches Nick Saban of Alabama and Brian Kelly of Notre Dame, however, are focused on the task at hand and not what the legions of oddsmakers, pundits and prognosticators feel will happen on the field tonight in Miami.

For Kelly, regardless of the result on the field, tonight’s game is about more than this season.

“Playing in this game is an incredible springboard into the next season, because as I just mentioned, you set a goal, you set a bar,” Kelly said. “They've already been here. You come back the next year, it's unacceptable for a standard to be any less than being back here again. So it's an incredible springboard.”

Kelly said his experience as a coach at Grand Valley State in Michigan – where he coached from 1987-2003, winning NCAA Division II national titles in 2002 and 2003 – also laid a good foundation for being in the position he and his Irish find themselves in now.

“When I was playing for championships at the Division II level, it just changes everything when you walk into that building on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said.  "Everybody is playing for championships.”

However, the playoff experience at Grand Valley State in the Division II level was much different than the BCS championship game structure, Kelly said.

“I think more than anything else, it's the anticipation of the game because there's such a lead-up for this one with all of the media attention, where at Grand Valley State, we were staying at the Best Western,” Kelly added. “I don't know that anybody knew where we were. It was just another game. It was the championship game, but it certainly doesn't have the same kind of feel.

So when you're in a playoff structure like we were at Grand Valley State playing for a national championship, it's the next game.  It's the third and fourth game in a row, where this you have such a layoff.  So it's a totally different feeling.”

Saban, meanwhile, has been here before and gotten the T-shirt – in addition to the crystal football that goes home with the winner. He led the Tide to national titles in 2009 and 2011.

Despite the media’s focus on Saban, the Tide coach said it’s all about the team.

“Everything that we've put into this year from the time two days after last year's game to have a team meeting and talk about what that team would be able to accomplish,” Saban said. “I think it's really all about trying to get this team in a position to be able to stay focused on the things that they can control to accomplish and challenge something for themselves.

“It's not really about me at all.  It's all about this team, this game, this year, and none of that other stuff really matters from my standpoint. I mean, I'm really all about our team this year.”

Neither coach knows yet what exactly he will say to his team before they take the field for tonight’s game.

Saban said his pregame speech will be focused on what he senses he needs to say to put his team in the right frame of mind to go out and win another national championship.

“I think what we're really always trying to accomplish is to make sure the team has a passion for the challenge that they have in front of them,” Saban said. “Certainly we're always trying to create and make sure that they have the right kind of psychological disposition to play with the kind of mental energy and intensity that's going to allow them to be all they can be and play their best football game”.

Kelly, meanwhile, said much of his pregame talk to his team will be on a topic he has already decided on applicable to tonight’s game.

“But a lot of it has always been about the moment,” Kelly said, “and getting a look at them … and getting a sense and feel for where they are at that moment.

The moment for both teams arrives tonight at 8:30 p.m. EST.

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David Vantress is a reporter for The Goshen (Ind.) News. Contact him at david.vantress@goshennews.com.