Alabama coach Nick Saban praised the decisions by quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. to play for the No. 5 Crimson Tide against No. 9 Kansas State in the Sugar Bowl on Dec. 31.
“Will and Bryce coming back to play in the game speaks volumes to the kind of culture we have in the program and guys like that wanting to try to improve themselves and have respect for their teammates to come back,” Saban told reporters Friday evening after the Crimson Tide’s first pre-bowl practice. “They’re the leaders on the team, they’re the most inspirational players, so that’s something I think is very special as well. These guys earned the right to play in the Sugar Bowl, which is very prestigious in its own right.”
Here’s what you need to know:
- Though neither Young nor Anderson has publicly revealed an NFL Draft decision, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler projected Young as the No. 1 pick and Anderson as the No. 2 pick in his first 2023 mock draft.
- The Athletic wrote Friday morning that as Sugar Bowl practice began, no opt-outs from the current roster were expected.
- Saban said he told Young and Anderson that playing in the Sugar Bowl was their choice and that he discussed the pros and cons with them.
What Saban said about bowl opt-outs
“It’s kind of interesting that people opt out of playing for their team, and the way you create value for yourself is to play football,” Saban said. “That is the best way you can create value for your future. And when you do that against good competition, I think that creates value for your future.
“I hear guys all the time say, ‘I’m going to get ready for the NFL.’ Well, what do you mean? You’re getting ready for the combine? A lot of the things you do at the combine are not even relevant to what you do on the football field. So every time you have an opportunity to compete, if you’re a great competitor — and I think these two guys are great competitors and that’s why they wanted to play and they want to try to continue to create value for themselves, be good teammates, help their teammates play well in the game. And that may sound old-fashioned in a lot of ways, but I sort of respect that.”
What Young and Anderson playing means
No one thought Young and Anderson would play in the Sugar Bowl against Kansas State. They have millions of reasons not to, but they saw it differently, opting in to Alabama New Year’s Eve bowl game.
Alabama has insurance policies in place to help mitigate the risk of playing, Saban said. What it means for the game is obvious. I’m sure Kansas State would rather not be having to face either star player. Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, and Anderson, two-time winner of the Nagurski Trophy, are game-changers. — Suttles
Then there’s the box office appeal of having both playing. Alabama fans are more likely to travel to New Orleans and watch the game with the team’s two biggest stars playing. As for as what it means for their legacies, that’s the stuff of legends. Both are two-time permanent team captains and have won more major awards than would fit in a typical trophy case. Opting in when everyone expected them to opt out will make them even more revered in Tuscaloosa. You can tell what it means to Saban.
“Well I think it sets a great example for guys that respect their teammates, want to be a part of their team, know the impact that they can make, the value that they can create for themselves by playing well against good competition,” Saban said. “So I’m extremely proud of these guys.” — Suttles
(Photo: Gary Cosby Jr. / USA Today)