December 21, 2016

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Alabama coach Nick Saban believes it's hard to blame players for skipping the bowl games when the playoffs have overshadowed most of them anyway.

Saban reiterated concerns Wednesday that he has voiced before that switching to the playoff format would diminish the importance of other bowl games, and he says that has happened. LSU tailback Leonard Fournette and Stanford tailback Christian McCaffrey have announced they won't play in their teams' bowls to focus on preparing for the NFL draft.

''Everybody's interested in the playoff,'' Saban said after practice. ''Nobody's interested in anything else. So now that that's trickled down to the players, how can you blame the players for that? I can't blame the players for that.

''What every player has to decide, and what I would say to every player, is I think every player probably benefits from playing really, really well. When you play in big games and you play really, really well, I think it enhances your value as a player. That's what I think. Every player would have to make the decision on whether is that more important relative to protecting yourself. I think that's every player's choice and every player's decision.''

Tide tight end O.J. Howard said of players skipping bowl games that he can see both sides and ''you can't be mad at the kids, because you can see where they're coming from.''

Howard believes it's unlikely a Tide player would make that call.

''Coach Saban, he would encourage us to do it but I really don't think a lot of guys on our team would want to do it,'' said Howard, who returned for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft. ''We build such a bond offseason training hard with each other, no one would quit on anybody without anything bad happening. Unless it's an injury that takes you away from the season, but no one would, I don't think, just quit on us.''

Alabama plays Washington in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

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