ORLANDO, Fla. -- Alabama just completed its ninth straight 11-win season, the longest such streak in college football history.
Maybe that had something to do with the way the regular season ended, with a loss to rival Auburn that kept the Crimson Tide out of the College Football Playoff for the first time since it began in 2014.
"I know most people would think that 10-2 was a good season," Saban said. "That's not necessarily our standard. The fact that previous to this year, we have been in seven of the last 10 championship games, eight playoffs out of 10, and we sort of started to develop a little bit of a reputation of if we weren't in the playoffs, we didn't play very well in the bowl games.
"Every player can create value for how he plays, and there's a tremendous amount of value that your team creates by maintaining the culture of how they play in the last game and how they finish the season and how that carries over, that culture carries over into next season, especially with the young players."
Playing in a non-playoff or non-New Year's Six game is simply not the goal or expectation at Alabama, and that's where the Crimson Tide ended up for the 2019 season. As Saban spoke about finishing the regular season 10-2, receiver Jerry Jeudy sat next to him and shook his head, as if to say that really wasn't a good season.
In the wake of Alabama's failure to finish in the top four, some outside the program began to wonder whether Alabama was losing a step as the most dominant team in college football -- especially combined with its performance in the national championship game against Clemson a year ago, a 44-16 loss.
Receiver DeVonta Smith said the Alabama players played with extra motivation "just because all the adversity we've been through, people down-talking us, saying that the legacy is over. So we just wanted to show everybody that even through adversity, we're still Bama."
In the first half against Michigan, it did not appear that way. Michigan took a 16-14 lead into halftime, but after that Alabama regained the edge, thanks in large part to Jeudy and Smith. Alabama has not been as strong defensively throughout the course of the season but took pride in shutting the Wolverines out in the second half.
Then there is backup quarterback Mac Jones, who took over after starter Tua Tagovailoa was lost for the season with a hip injury. Jones finished with 327 yards passing and three touchdowns, outplaying Michigan senior quarterback Shea Patterson.
Jones tosses three TDs to lead Alabama to Citrus Bowl win
Mac Jones throws for 327 yards and three touchdowns in Alabama's 35-16 victory over Michigan in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl.
The game was well in hand late, but that did not stop Alabama from scoring one last time. Rather than take a knee up 28-16 near the goal line with time running out, Alabama opted to hand off to Najee Harris. He scored on a 2-yard run with 26 seconds left for the final margin.
Neither Saban nor Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh addressed the decision afterward, but Michigan linebacker Cameron McGrone told reporters, "It was kind of a smack in the face. But it is what it is. It's football. We've got to be ready all times, and we weren't ready that play."
Maybe that was all part of Alabama's feeling the need to make one final statement.
Saban pointed to his team's two regular-season losses to LSU and Auburn, in which Alabama perhaps didn't play up to its own high standards, contributing to what the players wanted to show Wednesday.
"We have a culture of how we play football at Alabama, with great effort, great toughness, but also discipline to execute and accountability for everybody to do their job," Saban said. "That's always been the trademark of what we do. Maybe in a couple games that we played, you know, half of the LSU game and maybe at Auburn, we didn't really do that to the standard that I would like and to our expectation, and I think the players realized that.
"They wanted to prove that this is the culture that was established for a number of years here by a lot of good players, and I think they have a lot of pride in that, and I think they wanted to come out today and prove that this is what Alabama football, the culture of Alabama football is really all about."
Or as Alabama linebacker Anfernee Jennings said: "We wanted to come out and reestablish the Bama factor and play together. Go out with a bang and finish the season the right way."