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DALLAS (AP) — Alabama started its season in North Texas with a goal of coming back. Michigan State ended last season at the Cotton Bowl and the plan for this season was to return to play for even higher stakes.
Mission accomplished for both the Crimson Tide and Spartans.
"Yeah, this is where we wanted to be," Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland said Saturday. "We fought hard all year, and now we're where we want to be, and in a position to win it all."
The teams were in place and started practicing Saturday in the Dallas area for the College Football Playoff's Cotton Bowl semifinal. The third-seeded Spartans and No. 2 Tide will ring in the new year Thursday night at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
Michigan State (12-1) arrived Friday night. Alabama (12-1) got in Saturday morning, leaving behind the severe weather that brought flooding and tornadoes in its home state to find some more ominous weather brewing in North Texas. The entire area was on a tornado watch for most of the afternoon and into the evening. Tornado and flash flood warnings dotted the counties around Dallas.
A few Crimson Tide players who went home for Christmas were delayed getting back to Tuscaloosa on Christmas night, but all the players expected to be on Alabama's team plane made it.
"Certainly was a difficult circumstance last night, but we didn't have any issues at least with the group that came with us, which was probably 90 percent of the guys," Tide coach Nick Saban said. A few players from this part of the country were allowed to meet the team in Texas, Saban said.
On Saturday, the National Weather Service in Fort Worth confirmed that a tornado touched down south of Dallas. An emergency management official in Ellis County reported damage to some homes in the area. The storm passed through downtown Dallas, leading to more tornado warnings.
Spokesmen for Michigan State and Alabama said the weather in North Texas did not affect either team.
The Spartans worked out at AT&T Stadium in Arlington as scheduled and the Crimson Tide got their work in at Coppell High School, a bit north of Dallas. Both teams then took part in a welcome party thrown by the Dallas Cowboys at the stadium.
A year ago, Michigan State faced Baylor in the Cotton Bowl and scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to wipe out a 20-point deficit and beat the Bears 42-41.
"Our goals are always trying to go a little bit farther," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "And last year the way the season wrapped up, big win in the Cotton Bowl. But at the same time, we weren't in the College Football Playoff, which our goal is always to win the Big Ten championship, which I believe should put you in that playoff, if you are fortunate enough to do that."
Alabama began this season with a 35-17 victory at AT&T Stadium against Wisconsin, and went on to become the only team to repeat as a playoff participant. Big Ten champion Ohio State upset the Tide 42-35 in last year's semifinals at the Sugar Bowl.
"Everybody on the team knew that the leadership wasn't the right way, some guys can't say nothing about it. But now I can say something about it because I'm a leader," Ragland said about last year's loss. "If I feel like I don't like something, I'm going to say it. If we need to do this, I'm going to say it. The guys on the team know we need to do this the right way. The right way gets it done. You can tell my guys are ready already."
Alabama is a 10-point favorite against Michigan State this time, which works well for the Spartans.
"It's when we thrive," center Jack Allen said.
The teams were at one point scheduled to play and home-and-home series, starting in 2016 in Tuscaloosa. The Tide and former Michigan State coach Saban were to come to East Lansing, Michigan, in 2017. But in 2013, with the SEC considering adding a ninth conference game for future schedules, Alabama canceled the series.
"We wanted this since they were on our schedule," Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. "Then they were no longer on our schedule. The game got canceled. I guess. So this opportunity came to fruition. We were happy to have it."
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