TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It must be December because Alabama is preparing for a national title game and Nick Saban's future is a popular topic.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide started practicing Tuesday for the BCS championship game Jan. 7 against No. 1 Notre Dame with All-America center Barrett Jones on the mend and Saban laughing off rumors about returning to the NFL.
"We're really, really pleased and happy to be here," the former Miami Dolphins coach said Tuesday after the first bowl practice. "We've been able to accomplish a lot. But like I've talked about before, this is a work in progress all the time. You've got to stay focused on the process to try to continue to make the next game the most important game, the next season the most important season, developing the team every year.
"We certainly look forward to those challenges. I'm not sure, regardless of what I say, that anybody believes what I say because I say it all the time. This is what we're happy doing. This is what we like to do. But nobody really believes that. So, you know, maybe it doesn't matter. I don't know what I have to say or do, but it's kind of funny to me," he said.
Saban and Alabama will try to capture their third national title in four years.
The Tide will practice five days before taking a three-day break for Christmas.
Jones won't practice until after the team returns after spraining his left foot in the first quarter of the Southeastern Conference championship game against Georgia, a 32-28 victory that ended with the Bulldogs on Alabama's 5-yard line.
Wide receiver Kenny Bell has been cleared to do some work after recovering from a broken leg. He was expected to be out 5-6 weeks after surgery to repair the injury sustained against Auburn on Nov. 24.
As usual, the Tide is applying Saban's back to basics philosophy for the first few days of practice before focusing heavily on Notre Dame.
Jones thinks the fact that most players went through the drill in 2011 and veterans like him were part of the 2009 championship team is "overrated" in getting ready for this one.
"The fact that Alabama has been in the national championship before, that's not going to help us once the ball is snapped," Jones said. "It's not going to be who is the more experienced fighter. It's going to be who fights the better fight that night. Certainly, Coach has been through this and has a specific formula of how to handle long layoffs. As players, we trust that formula."
It worked in a 37-21 win over Texas in Pasadena, Calif., and a 21-0 victory over LSU in New Orleans.