The Crimson Tide was ranked No. 5 in the final rankings announced Sunday, making it the first team out among teams still in contention for a national championship.
Alabama coach Nick Saban spent much of Saturday night campaigning for Alabama (10-2), but those attempts were ultimately in vain as No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 TCU and No. 4 Ohio State were selected as national semifinalists.
“We’re obviously disappointed,” Saban told ESPN on Sunday. “We wanted to see our team have an opportunity to play and get into the playoffs. We’re going to get an opportunity to play someone somewhere in a good game. That’s going to be an opportunity for our players to create value for themselves and show what kind of team we really have.”
Instead, the Crimson Tide is expected to face Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Dec. 31 (11 a.m., ESPN). The highest-ranked SEC team and highest-ranked Big 12 team not in the playoff goes to the Sugar Bowl this season.
“I just think it comes down to trying to establish the kind of respect we’d like to have for this team and we did and didn’t accomplish and what we did and didn’t do,” Saban said would be his message to players. “What we do in the future, what we do moving forward is going to determine that to a large degree.”
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Saban kept emphasizing the opportunity to build for the future and players having the opportunity to create value for themselves.
That could include playing in the bowl game for those who don’t opt out ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft. Quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. are expected to be high first-round draft picks, so their status is worth monitoring. Saban said he can’t speculate on who will be available but the staff will coach the players that are there.
“We certainly have a great amount of appreciation and respect for the guys who are going to finish the season with the team, and we’re going to do the best job we can to help put those guys in a position where they have a chance to be successful,” Saban said during a virtual news conference Sunday. “There will be some opportunity for some new guys, no question. But we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Saban said he hasn’t talked with Young and Anderson yet, but both participated in work outs this past week. He expects to have an opportunity to talk with the captains this week.
Other players could decide to sit the game out as well. ESPN has defensive back Brian Branch and running back Jahmyr Gibbs also in the top 25 of their database on top 2023 draft prospects.
“I’m hopeful that players will see this as an opportunity to create value for themselves, even if they’re older players that have a chance to get drafted this year and come out, if they’re seniors or juniors,” Saban said. “For the younger guys on the team, to sort of build value for their future in terms of how they can use this as an opportunity to continue to develop and grow and get better.
Either way, this will be the last game of the season for the Crimson Tide in what has been a season of adversity, including tough road trips that yielded two losses by a combined four points and Young dealing with a shoulder injury in the middle of the year that kept him from practicing.
What did Saban learn from 2022?
“We probably have to do a much better job of making sure you have great relationships with all your players,” Saban said. “I think it’s more difficult in the landscape of college football to be able to keep people focused because there’s a lot of external factors that can affect them. You want them to be able to stay focused on the task at hand. That’s what they control, and that’s what really builds value for them and their future. I think that’s the No. 1 thing we would like to do a better job of in the future.”
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Nick Saban on Alabama missing College Football Playoff, Sugar Bowl opt-outs