Minnesota’s opponent just happy to be back in the postseason

Dan Miller

Alabama football offensive tackle Wesley Britt’s body has taken a beating this season – the 6-foot-8-inch, 300-pound senior played with the pain of a serious foot injury in Alabama’s final two games against LSU and Auburn.

But what’s more impressive is how the All-Southeastern Conference performer has helped lead Alabama through two years of NCAA sanctions that cost the Tide two bowl game opportunities and 21 scholarships.

After a two-year absence, Britt and Alabama (6-5) are excitedly returning to college football’s postseason, playing Minnesota (6-5) in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 31 in Nashville, Tenn.

“We set our goals really high, especially being here at Alabama,” Britt said. “But we’re excited about the opportunity, excited about reaching one of the goals of getting Alabama back to a bowl game. As a team, we talked about it all offseason.”

Alabama fans have already responded by buying all 10,000 of their allotted tickets in the first day of ticket sales.

Much of the thanks for bringing the Tide back to the postseason goes to Alabama coach Mike Shula.

Shula, in his second season with the Tide and amid serious injuries to four starters, has restored some respect to a historically prominent program marred by the sanctions.

A former Alabama player himself, he said he is as happy as anyone to get the Tide back on track.

“I think back to when we got our sixth win, there was something different about that one,” Shula said. “All the guys knew we were bowl-eligible. The look on their faces, especially the seniors that have been to only one other bowl – they take a lot of pride being at Alabama. They take a lot of pride in winning. And they take a lot of pride in carrying on traditions.”

After sanctions and nine losses last season, the entire Alabama program said it feels it has turned a corner with its trip to Nashville.

“We will be playing with 20 less scholarships than Minnesota in this game,” Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore said. “I think these players and coaches are to be commended for their efforts the way they played, and to reach this level under these circumstances is a very good sign.”

The Tide relied heavily on its defense this season. It ranks second nationally in total defense, giving up only 254.9 yards per game.

It also has the best turnover margin in the SEC with 23 takeaways this season.

With the worst passing game in the SEC, the Tide has had to run the ball – a lot. The Tide running game, led by sophomore tailback Kenneth Darby, averages approximately 44 carries per game and average 200 yards per contest.

“We are really pleased with the way we ran the football this season,” Shula said. “We have some really good young players who will do a good job in the bowl game.”

As for older Alabama players like Britt, they said they are just happy to be back in a bowl game.

Even if it means playing through a little more pain.

“I can play; I love playing football,” Britt said. “And it’s my last chance to play here at Alabama. It’s a great opportunity for me.”