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Dallas – Alabama arrived at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday ready to hit the ground running in its preparation for Thursday's matchup with Michigan State in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

The Crimson Tide came in a day later than the Spartans, but they were headed to practice on Saturday afternoon at AT&T Stadium with a clear picture of what they are trying to accomplish.

"Everybody knows what's at stake," said running back Derrick Henry, the Heisman Trophy winner. "Everybody knows what we got to do. So (we) come in and practice and get ready to play."

The winner gets a spot in the national championship game and the Tide feel like it's theirs for the taking.

In last season's semifinal played at the Sugar Bowl, Alabama was the top-ranked team and favored to beat No. 4 Ohio State. But the Buckeyes came away with the 42-35 victory, handing the Crimson Tide their second straight bowl loss and spurring them to a national title.

Coach Nick Saban questioned his team's focus heading into that game, something the Crimson Tide is certain won't be an issue this time around.

"Everybody on the team knew that leadership wasn't the right way (last year)," linebacker Reggie Ragland said. "But some guys can't say nothing about it. But now I can say something because I'm a leader. And I feel like I don't like something, I'm going to say it. The guys on the team know we got to do this the right way because the right way gets it done. The wrong way doesn't. Guys are very focused in coming in on the plane and all. So I can tell my guys are ready already.

"It's time to get it now. All the playtime over. It's all about being focused on Michigan State and coming out practicing hard and playing the right way. So that's what it's all about now getting it done."

Michigan State certainly has Alabama's respect. The last meeting between the teams – a 49-7 win for the Crimson Tide in the 2011 Capital One Bowl – is a distant memory and no current players were around then.

Now the Crimson Tide see a team not all that different from themselves.

"Everybody's got their style, but, for the most part, they're a good team and a physical team all the way through," Ragland said. "They got a physical offensive line like we do. And they got a good quarterback just like we do, and they got good backs just like we do.

"It's all about doing your job and focusing in and playing blocks. You've got to be mentally tough and physical the whole time. And the team that breaks first is going to lose. Hopefully, we don't. But we got to come out and play hard the whole time."

Saturday's practice will give Saban a good idea if his team is in the right position to make up for last season's semifinal loss.

"It's all about mindset," Saban said. "Putting the Christmas holiday behind you, refocusing on what we need to do to invest our time in the preparation that we have, the opportunity each day in practice and in meetings to focus on that.

"It's all about how bad you want something, because it's certainly going to be a difficult game, a tough game. And I think you have to prepare for that and have the right mindset in terms of what your expectation is when the game starts, what kind of game it's going to be."

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

Cotton Bowl

Alabama vs. Michigan State

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Dec. 31, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV / radio: ESPN / WJR 760

Records: No. 2 Alabama 12-1, No. 3 Michigan State 12-1

Line: Alabama by 9.5

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