Mark Ingram can’t get away from the “how close did you come to going to Michigan State?” question. Alabama’s star tailback from Flint, Mich., came very close to being a Spartan, as Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio has pointed out. But Ingram and his Crimson Tide teammates are concentrating on what is, not what might have been.
Alabama continued practice for its Capital One Bowl meeting with a two-hour workout in full gear at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando Tuesday. Temperatures were warmer than on Monday. More important than the temperature getting into the 50s, though, was that the winds were calmer than Monday, when the Tide was forced to work at an indoor facility.
Alabama and Michigan State will meet at 1 p.m. EST (noon central time) Saturday. The game will be televised by ESPN.
Players are mixing fun with work. After visiting the Disney properties Monday, the team had the opportunity to go to Universal Studios following Tuesday practice. The Tide will have light practices on Wednesday and Thursday, and then take a team photo and hold a walk-through Friday afternoon at the Citrus Bowl, site of Saturday’s game.
On Thursday after practice, Coach Nick Saban and select players will participate in a Capital One Bowl Pep Rally at Pointe Orlando. Alabama is on at 5 p.m. (EST) and Michigan State follows at 5:45 p.m. Both UA and MSU bands and cheerleaders are scheduled to attend. Saban’s weekly call-in radio show will be held later that evening (7-9 p.m.) in the atrium of the Renaissance Orlando Resort and is open to the public.
Mark Ingram, Bama’s junior tailback, said following Tuesday practice that the Tide considers its responsibility as a member of the Southeastern Conference playing a representative from the Big Ten.
“Definitely,” he said. “I think any team that plays in the SEC knows how rough it is, week in and week out. You’ve got to take pride in the conference. You always want to uphold the name of the SEC, because we feel we have the greatest conference in the country. You always want to keep up that reputation and live up to it.”
So, he’ll be cheering for SEC teams during bowl season.
“Yeah,” he said. And after a brief pause added, “and no. But, yeah, we always want the SEC to do good.”
Ingram said he would describe SEC fooball as “tough. It’s a rind, week-in and week-out. You can’t take any team for granted because everybody’s coming with something.”
He said Big Ten players are “strong guys. Big, strong guys. They play physical.”
Ingram takes particular note of the Michigan State defense, and specifically the outstanding middle linebacker Greg Jones, a 6-1, 240-pounder.
“They are athletic and they don’t make a lot of mistakes,” Ingram said. “They are very dound on defense. They play together as a team.
“Greg Jones is an outstanding linebacker. He feels quick, moves around quick. He’s a great linebacker. He’s the leader of their defense. It speaks for itself that he’s a three-time All-America.
“But our main focus right now is just practicing every day and perfecting our game plan, learning them more and more every day so we know them inside and out, and just giving ourselves the best chance to go out there and have success.”
Ingram was the Heisman Trophy winner as a sophomore when he rushed for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns in leading Alabama to a 14-0 record and the national championship. This year he missed the first two games of the season because of knee surgery as Alabama has gone 9-3. He has rushed for 816 yards and 11 touchdowns.
With over a month since the final game of the regular season, Ingram has had time to recuperate. “Just not taking a beating every Saturday of getting hit,” he said. “We practice hard, but you still have time to rest and recover. I guess just from a health standpoint, everybody’s a little more fresh.
“I feel good.”
Ingram said it will be good to have the starting offensive line back intact for Saturday’s game. “The guys that stepped in for them did a good job,” he said, “but just to have the starters back, it’s good to have them back. Everybody’s back into the flow of things.”
He said intensity in practice has been good.
“it’s been real ramped up, especially since we’ve gotten down here,” he said. “Guys are hitting, guys are running around fast. I think everybody’s excited, real excited, because practice has been intense and the excitement of the practices have been up-tempo. That’s a good thing. Every now and then you’ve got to bring some guys along, but I think the majority of the team has had a real positive attitude about what we have to do and what we’re here for.”
And, of course, there’s the Michigan thing.
“Yeah,” he said, “I’m excited. Being down here in a bowl and having a chance to get our 10th win and it being Michigan State, there is a little extra inside me, a little extra intensity from my standpoint.”