Three straight losses to end the 2006 regular season earned Alabama an unsatisfying invite to the Independence Bowl. It took four straight defeats in 2007 for the program to repeat its fate.
The Crimson Tide (6-6) will try to avoid their first back-to-back losing seasons in 45 years, while Colorado (6-6) looks to avoid doing the same for the first time in 22 years when the schools meet in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 30.
Nick Saban was hired in Tuscaloosa on Jan. 3, less than a week after Alabama's 34-31 Independence Bowl loss to Oklahoma State dropped the Crimson Tide to 6-7. He was expected to resurrect the once dominant program that featured 12 national championships and 54 bowl appearances.
After starting this season 6-2, including victories over a pair of ranked opponents, Crimson Tide fans had their eyes on a possible BCS berth with No. 3 LSU coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 3. But Alabama couldn't hold a 27-17 third-quarter lead, and the 41-34 loss to the Tigers was the first of four straight to end the season.
During that stretch, the Tide suffered an unthinkable 21-14 home loss to Louisiana-Monroe and their sixth straight defeat to bitter rival Auburn.
"The most disappointing thing about this season is we didn't finish," Saban said following the 17-10 loss at Auburn in the regular-season finale on Nov. 24. "I failed the players in not getting them to be able to finish. ... The last four games, we didn't finish the way we wanted to finish."
Considering the circumstances, finishing the season with the Tide's NCAA-record 55th bowl appearance may not invoke memories of some of the program's past bowl triumphs. But to Saban, it still has plenty of meaning.
"It's a great opportunity for our players to end this season on a positive note and for us to continue to build on what we accomplished this season," Saban said. "This game will be about the team, our program and our fans as we continue to build our program at Alabama."
The Tide's offense had played well through the first nine games, averaging 31.8 points and 395.9 yards while committing only 11 turnovers. But in its last three games, Alabama scored just 12.0 points, averaged 302.7 yards and turned the ball over seven times.
John Parker Wilson was one of the main culprits for the Tide's inconsistency. His quarterback rating of 111.9 was 11th out of the 12 full-time starters in the SEC, and he struggled down the stretch, throwing one touchdown and five interceptions in the last three losses.
Senior wide receiver DJ Hall was third in the SEC with 947 receiving yards after finishing fourth last season. He also caught six touchdowns.
Alabama is no stranger to playing in Shreveport. Aside from their 2006 Independence Bowl loss, the Tide also played in the bowl in 2001, knocking off Iowa State 14-13.
Colorado and Alabama have met twice, both in bowls. The Buffaloes won the 1969 Liberty Bowl 47-33, while the Tide won the 1991 Blockbuster Bowl 30-25.
The Buffaloes were expected to be rebuilding for a second consecutive year under coach Dan Hawkins, and that appeared to be the case following a 1-2 start. But then Colorado ran off three impressive victories, including what was thought to be a program-defining 27-24 upset of then-No. 3 Oklahoma on Sept. 29.
Yet 4-2 quickly turned into 5-6 after four losses in five games, leaving their annual post-Thanksgiving clash with Nebraska to determine if the Buffaloes would be bowl eligible.
Despite allowing 610 yards of offense and trailing by 11 at halftime, Colorado's offense erupted in the second half, and the Buffaloes led by as many as 23 before beating the Cornhuskers 65-51.
"I've never in my four years here seen a comeback like that," Colorado linebacker Jordon Dizon said. "Not only a comeback, but that kind of margin of win."
Dizon was named the Big 12 defensive player of the year and was a first-team AP All-American. He had 160 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble, and was the leader of a defense that ranked sixth in the Big 12.
"He is very deserving," Hawkins said. "Good things happen to good people and he is one of those guys. He has had a tremendous season. ... He shows up every day, he's a very humble guy, he plays hurt, great leader - just very solid all the way around."
On offense, Colorado struggled in its losses, averaging just 15.3 points. In their wins, the Buffaloes scored 39.8.
Redshirt freshman Cody Hawkins is the Buffaloes' quarterback, and like Wilson, he had an up-and-down season, with a rating of 117.4 - 10th among Big 12 quarterbacks.
Hugh Charles was the conference's sixth-leading rusher, running for 1,022 yards and eight touchdowns, including 169 yards and three scores in the win over Nebraska.
This will be the ninth Big 12-SEC matchup since the Independence Bowl aligned with those two conferences in 1998. The SEC took the first six meetings before Missouri and Oklahoma State won the last two in Shreveport.
by: Staff Writers - Email Us
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