Saban: NFL Draft comment is no excuse for losing to Ohio State

HOOVER, Ala. — Every year, it seems, Nick Saban comes to SEC Media Days and uses the platform to push one or two big talking points. This year the Alabama head man took several opportunities on Wednesday to discuss an issue that was troubling him and had impacted his program: The NFL’s timeline for underclassmen to learn their draft grades from the pro evaluators.

Saban pointed out the deadline when an underclassmen needs to submit for a draft grade is Dec. 15, and the players get the results around Christmas. "And then you have a playoff game coming up on Jan. 1 or 2, and I think it’s my obligation as a coach to inform that young man when I get that information, because it’s his information not my information," Saban said. "And we’re talking about a young person who has to deal with a lot now."

Saban’s teams have been upset in the past two bowl games — in 2014 by No. 11 Oklahoma, 45-31, and in 2015 his No. 1 team was knocked off by No. 4 Ohio State, 42-35.

"Our team chemistry from the SEC title game to the (Ohio State game) was definitely affected by something," he said.

Lots of folks, including all Buckeye fans who have images of Ezekiel Elliott running wild through the Tide D, will take this as Saban making an excuse when what affected Bama most was Urban Meyer’s team. After all, wouldn’t this be an issue for most top teams?

In response to those saying Saban is making an excuse, the Alabama coach told the SEC Network, "It wasn’t an excuse at all for losing to Ohio State. There is no excuse. We didn’t play well. It’s my responsibility, and I didn’t manage it as well as I should have."

Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, who opted to return to Tuscaloosa for his senior season after considering the NFL, reaffirmed Saban’s stance.

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"I’d say guys got distracted by people in their ear," the senior said at SEC Media Days. "With me, the people that were in my ear, I wouldn’t answer the phone. I was just worried about playing football.

"A lot of guys got sidetracked by that, but I think this year coming up we’ve got a lot of guys that are not worried about the NFL. They’re just worried about right now."

Senior center Ryan Kelly didn’t think it was a huge issue for last year’s Crimson Tide but said, "Obviously Saban keeps bringing it up, so I guess it was." Kelly acknowledged the issue would have applied to both Alabama and Ohio State, "but obviously they did a better job managing it than we did."

It’s certainly a valid point regarding the distractions teams have to cope with, just not one exclusive to the Tide. Think of all the distractions the Buckeyes had over the last month of the season, including the death of teammate Kosta Karageorge.

Saban noted that his program has had an unusually high number of young players engaged in that process with six getting evaluations last year and 11 the year before.

"So we’re trying to get ready for a game and all of a sudden, a guy finds out he’s a ‘first-round’ draft pick or a guy that thought he was a first-rounder finds out he’s not a ‘first-rounder,’" Saban said. "I think it would be better not to submit that information to a player until (his season) is completed. We’ve moved the draft back. We have not moved the date that a player has to declare back."

Saban also said that some of his players played not to get hurt in the Sugar Bowl.

He said he thinks a week to 10-day delay would be ideal for the draft evaluation process. I asked how — besides from talking about it in these settings — does he try to make it happen. Saban said he’s spoken to some other coaches who had "moderate interest" in the issue. Some of the pushback he got on that was that by pushing one thing back it’d then further squeeze roster management with Signing Day coming up.

Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FOX Sports 1. He is also a New York Times Bestselling author. His new book, The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, came out in October, 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB and get all of his content on Facebook.

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