Nick Saban typically uses his SEC Media Days press conference to push an agenda.
He lobbied for additional in-conference matchups the previous two years. Last week, he used the platform to explain his desire for changes to the NFL Draft's declaration process, specifically for when juniors receive their draft grades. Unfortunately for proponents of change, he diluted the message by referencing Alabama's loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl:
Saban isn't happy that NFL draft grades were delivered to juniors on Dec. 15. Said players played not to get hurt, ran out of bounds— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) July 15, 2015
This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, he's openly questioning his own team's collective effort. For as much as he wants to grumble about chemistry leading up to the Sugar Bowl, how does this help the relationship between staff and players?
"I just felt like, in our experience last year, our team chemistry from the SEC Championship game to the playoff game was affected by something," Saban said. "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 round draft pick finds out he's not a first round draft pick, and we're trying to get ready to play a playoff game."
Ignoring the fact Ohio State or any other team with a comparable talent level also has to deal with the same issue, this only serves to diminish OSU's role in defeating Alabama. Saban later backtracked when he learned how the media interpreted his comments, but he should've stood by his original statements regardless. After all, one of Saban's most admirable traits is his stubbornness.
I think he didn't go far enough. There are numerous poor excuses for the Tide's loss, some of which make more sense than the distraction caused by the upcoming NFL Draft:
Ohio State players were too focused on boosting their 2016 NFL Draft stock.
If the draft can be a distraction, why wouldn't it also be a motivating factor?
Take a look at this early mock – Joey Bosa going No. 1 overall and four Buckeyes in the top 12. That doesn't even include Darron Lee, Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell or Pat Elflein.
It could be a historic first-round haul for OSU and the hype is, no doubt, aided by their performance against Alabama. It's particularly true for Ezekiel Elliott, who ran for 230 yards and two touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl.
The Buckeyes had too many quarterbacks.
When the Tide watched film to gain a better understanding of Ohio State's offensive tendencies, they had one full game of tape on Cardale Jones. Otherwise, he only appeared in blowouts against the dregs of the Big Ten.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart confirmed it was a problem during a radio interview in June. He referenced exit interviews with senior defensive leaders Landon Collins, Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams.
"All three of them said they did not respect the quarterback, and our job as the coaches was to make them respect the quarterback," Smart told 680 The Fan in Atlanta. "Well they heard from the media, they heard from ESPN, they heard from everybody that he was a third-string quarterback. How can a third-string quarterback beat Alabama? We didn’t promote him enough and they didn’t value his talents enough."
On top of that, they also didn't respect Evan Spencer's passing abilities:
Alabama's early lead was too big.
As important as Cardale Jones was throughout the game, he also threw a second-quarter interception in his own territory. Cyrus Jones returned it to the Ohio State 15, setting up a T.J. Yeldon touchdown run.
The Buckeyes were down 21-6 after Yeldon's TD and it could've been a crushing blow to Ohio State's comeback hopes. Perhaps it only served to inflate Alabama's sense of overconfidence.
OSU went on to score 28 consecutive points, unanswered until the final minute of the third quarter.
It wasn't the national championship game.
When Bama took a 15-point lead, they might have started looking ahead to Oregon. The Ducks destroyed Florida State earlier that day and their fans begged to play the Tide all year.
Plus, Saban's teams have a history of not playing up to expectations in bowls that aren't the national title game. The 2014 Sugar Bowl, for example:
Nick Saban said playing OU last year had to convince team "getting them to try to play in consolation game"— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 22, 2014
It's actually your fault, Alabama fans.
Remember another embarrassing Sugar Bowl loss? In 2009, Saban took a direct shot at the fan base while explaining the loss to Utah.
"I want our fans to understand that when they don't have positive passion and energy for what we're trying to accomplish, then it affects everyone," Saban said, via AL.com. "[The 2008 team] was a great example of that."
Who's to say that wasn't also the case in the 2014 Sugar Bowl? Tuscaloosa is only about a four-hour drive from New Orleans but the Crimson Tide contingent wasn't as overwhelming as expected.
If the streets of New Orleans are any indication, this will not be a decidedly pro-Alabama crowd at the Sugar Bowl. Lots of OSU fans.— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) January 1, 2015