Alabama coach Nick Saban facing the harsh reality that maybe Clemson has caught the Crimson Tide

HOOVER, Ala. – Maybe Clemson was just better. 

Nick Saban will sort of admit that now. Up until this point – and really after any Alabama postseason loss under Saban – that hasn't always been the case. 

Frequently, it was more about the Crimson Tide losing because of a myriad of factors, rather than the other team actually being superior. 

Agents, looming NFL careers, simple entitlement. And now add assistant coaches chasing jobs to the list. 

"We had a lot of distractions at the end of the year," Saban said once again. 

There really are no excuses that take root this time. The cleat prints on Bama's collective behind prove it. The Tide got their asses kicked by Clemson in the College Football Playoff championship game. 

"They were really good," Saban admitted to CBS Sports on Wednesday at SEC Media Days. "When Trevor Lawrence began playing quarterback for them, they became a different type of team. He actually made some of the playmakers on their team much more effective."

A lot of those playmakers ran through, around and past Alabama defenders last Jan. 7 in the worst loss of Saban's career since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in 2007. The 44-16 defeat wasn't just a beatdown, it suggested Bama wasn't just outplayed, it was outcoached. 

That consideration certainly has to be taken into account in analyzing the end. Clemson was damn good and may have ascended the college football throne now – and for a while. 

"So what? Now what?" 

That was Bama receiver Jerry Jeudy repeating Saban's offseason mantra. 

"So what if we lost last year?" Jeudy said. "Now what are we going to do about it?"

Well, for one Alabama is most likely going to have to get past Clemson again. Once again, the two schools have separated themselves in the college football discussion.

In the playoff era, Clemson and Alabama have split four games. The Tigers lead in CFP championship games 2-1. No wonder Saban grumbled Wednesday about all anyone wanting to talk about in a 14-1 season was that one loss. 

Except that that's the standard Saban sets. 

"I think about the last game more," Jeudy said. "We had a great season but the last game is the most important game." 

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is also thinking about the painful defeat.

"I know this sounds bad but I'm glad I had the opportunity to feel a loss like that because what can you learn from winning?" Tagovailoa said. "You start appreciating things a lot more."

That's one way of looking at it. Alabama's play declined the last month of the season, specifically after the shutout win at LSU. The Tide certainly didn't show up in the national championship game. 

"We played looking at the scoreboard," Tagovailoa said describing the second half of the season. "If the scoreboard was good to us, we'd kind of ease off and let the second group guys go in. We wouldn't play it the way we were supposed to be playing. [We'd] probably only play for two or three quarters or let off the gas."

Then in the Clemson game, "It was a lot different … because we weren't put in a situation like where we had to come back and try to win the game."

Alabama players are no different than a lot of today's youth. Sometimes they feel entitled. Asked to explain it, Saban can't.

"You're fighting human nature a little bit," he said. "People don't always respond well to success. They think they should be rewarded when they have success." 

Alabama has lost before, though not often. Losses like the one to Clemson tend to stand out as landmarks. But at some point you've got to give Clemson credit. 

Lawrence came out of the Alabama game the best player in college football this side of Kyler Murray. Meanwhile, Tagovailoa was hobbled late by knee and ankle injuries. 

Clemson sported one of the best defensive lines in the sport's history. Alabama had an untested backfield. 

"You always want your team to improve throughout the course of the season," Saban said. "That just didn't happen last year. I'm responsible for that."

Maybe that is what talkin' season is for here at media days – owning it. Alabama isn't down or even sliding. But in heat of July before camps open, the Clemson loss does seem like more like a hiccup.

 "When you see something every day you don't really tend to appreciate it as much," Tagovailoa said. "It loses its value. But when you lose, you start to appreciate that thing." 

That thing is winning them all or winning it all – whatever it takes to flush this latest Clemson loss. 

"[Going from] good to great," Saban said, "it's the biggest challenge that we all have."

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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