Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. decided they had unfinished business at Alabama, even if it isn't another shot at a national championship.
The fifth-ranked Crimson Tide stars are sticking around for the Sugar Bowl on Dec. 31 against No. 11 Kansas State instead of joining other high-profile NFL prospects — like Texas All-American running back Bijan Robinson — who are skipping bowl games to get a head start on preparing for the draft and minimize their risk of getting injured.
The decision by Young and Anderson is notable, because they've been floated as candidates for the No. 1 pick.
“Everybody says it’s like the business part of it, but when you love the game of football you always have that competitor part of it,” said Anderson, who has won several national awards. “Me just being at home with training and sitting down watching the game, I would be feeling so bad or not feeling great about myself, just the competitor in me.”
Neither Anderson nor Young has officially announced plans to skip their senior seasons, but it seems almost a foregone conclusion.
Other Southeastern Conference stars have opted out of their bowl games, including Kentucky quarterback Will Levis and running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., LSU defensive lineman BJ Ojulari, Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders and Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt.
Nationally, the opt-outs include Robinson, Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, Clemson edge rusher Myles Murphy, Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer and edge rusher Isaiah Foskey, Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and North Carolina wide receiver Josh Downs.
And Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said running back Eric Gray, offensive tackles Anton Harrison and Wanya Morris and defensive lineman Jalen Redmond have opted out of the Alamo Bowl.
Playing without quarterback Anthony Richardson and All-America guard O’Cyrus Torrence — among others — Florida lost to Oregon State 30-3 i n the Las Vegas Bowl.
Alabama failed to make the College Football Playoffs, and its repeat bid last season was squashed by Georgia in the national championship game. Some Tide players have entered the transfer portal but none have opted out for the NFL.
Young, who won the 2021 Heisman Trophy and has passed for 3,007 yards with 27 touchdowns and five interceptions this season, said playing in the Sugar Bowl "was a pretty clear-cut decision for me.”
“I take pride in being a leader on this team,” said Young, who missed the Texas A&M game and most of Arkansas with a shoulder injury and didn’t have nearly the potent weapons at wide receiver he did the year before. "It's something that ‘s really important to me. It means a lot. I have another chance to go out there to be a leader, to play with my brothers. That’s not something I can pass up."
Tide coach Nick Saban thinks playing another big game is a good business decision for players looking to improve their draft stock.
“You know, 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. ... You know, I hear guys all the time say, ‘I’m going to get ready for the NFL.’ Well, what do you mean? Getting ready for the combine? A lot of the things that you do at the combine are not even relevant to what you do on the football field.”
Anderson has won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player, the Lombardi Award as the top lineman, the Lott IMPACT Trophy and the SEC's defensive player of the year. He said he's savoring one more chance to play in the crimson-and-white uniform and not fixating on the danger of getting injured months before the draft — a concern for many players eyeing big NFL contracts.
“That was never anything in my mind," he said. “I’ve been playing three years here, some of the hardest football in my life, SEC football. If I had that same mentality going into my freshman year, I probably wouldn’t standing up here right now, because I’d be worrying about getting hurt.”
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