"You pay a lot attention to (the speculation)," junior safety Roman Harper said. "We were pretty positive we were going to a bowl after we got our sixth win, but the last couple of weeks everyone was saying either Nashville or Shreveport."
It's the Alabama players who did the yeoman's work and will reap the reward, a trip to Nashville, Tennessee to play Minnesota in the Music City Bowl on the morning of New Year's Eve in the Coliseum, home of the NFL's Tennessee Titan's.
"I've seen it on TV a couple times," Harper said. "I've never been to an NFL stadium, so it will be fun."
Playing with one hand tied behind its back due to three years of scholarship limitations, then being crippled with season-ending injury after season-ending injury, the Crimson Tide players found a way to reach the post-season plateau.
"We set our goals really high, especially being here at Alabama," senior offensive lineman Wesley Britt said. "We're excited about reaching one of our goals. We talked about it so much in the off season. I don't think any team I've been on has worked as hard as we did as a team and we're starting to see the fruits of that."
Alabama will be making its 52nd all-time bowl appearance and will be seeking its 30th all-time bowl win at the 2004 Music City Bowl. The Crimson Tide holds the NCAA record for most bowl appearances and bowl victories entering the 2004 season.
The Crimson Tide will be playing in the Music City Bowl for the second time in the bowl's brief six-year history. Alabama dropped a 38-7 decision to Virginia Tech in the inaugural Music City Bowl on Dec. 29, 1998. That game was played at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Minnesota finished the season 6-5 overall, losing five of its last six games. Minnesota had an unusual schedule, finishing its season in 11 consecutive weeks with no open day separating its games. The Golden Gophers wrapped up their regular season on Nov. 13.
Minnesota is back in Nashville for the second time in three years. The Golden Gophers beat Arkansas 29-14 in the 2002 Music City Bowl, the SEC's fifth straight loss in the Nashville bowl game.
"I was really excited when I heard we were playing Minnesota," Harper said. "I knew they had a great offense. We have a challenge and it will be good for us to go out there and play another good team."
The date with Minnesota will be the first-ever meeting between these two schools. This will be the seventh time that Alabama has faced a Big Ten in a post-season bowl game, with UA holding a 4-2 series lead in the previous six meetings.
"I've seen them quite a few times on TV," Harper said. "Both of there running backs get the job done, and they have a good quarterback too. They put up a lot points on offense, so our defense is going to have its hands full. They're not fancy with it either; they just line up and bowl people off ball and let the running backs do what they do, then they throw it around a little bit, too."
Of course the news did not come as a surprise to anyone, and while it was not written in stone until shortly after Auburn squeaked past Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Championship game on Saturday night, it was wide speculated for the past two weeks that Nashville would be the Tide's destination.
During that time, Alabama players were given Thanksgiving week off, and resumed conditioning at weight training four days a week afterwards. Practice for the players will resume on December 17th, after most players' final exams are completed.
Injuries have been on the mend as well. Wesley Britt, who has not practiced since the first week of November, has been rehabilitating his injured foot two hours each day. Mike Shula said Sunday that signs were positive that Britt, tight end David Cavan and running backs Kenneth Darby and Le'Ron McClain would be able to play.
"It's still bothering me," Britt said said. "I'm rehabbing every day for a couple hours. It's still hurting. I haven't been able to run since the injury, except in the games. It's a ton better than it was a couple of weeks ago. I could feel every time I moved."
Asked if he would be available for the bowl game Britt answered, "I love playing football and this will be the last chance for me to play for Alabama. It's a great opportunity for me."
Fans are encouraged to contact the Music City Bowl for ticket information. Ticket prices for the Bowl begin at $15 and $30 for Upper Level, $45 for Lower Level and $65 for Club Level and are available in all sections of The Coliseum. Tickets can be purchased in Nashville by calling Ticketmaster at 615-255-9600 or by visiting www.ticketmaster.com
The team is expected to arrive in Nashville for the bowl festivities on Dec. 26. and the game will be televised by ESPN, with Dave Barnett, Bill Curry, David Norrie and Alex Flanagan broadcasting.