TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama running back Mark Ingram, defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and wide receiver Julio Jones said Friday they are leaving early to the NFL Draft.
However, linebacker Dont'a Hightower said he will return for his final year.
Coach Nick Saban said the three departing players were part of a group that has been as successful as any in the nation over three years. Ingram, Dareus and Jones all are projected to be drafted in the first round.
"Each one of these guys, these young men, have made a very good decision based on all the facts that are available to them relative to what their future should be," Saban said.
Ingram won the Heisman during Alabama's 2009 national championship season, but was hampered part of this season as he recovered from knee surgery. Ingram said he was leaving Alabama without any regrets.
"It's been the best experience of my life," Ingram said during a news conference. "I will always bleed crimson."
The 6-foot-4, 306-pound Dareus was the star in Alabama's championship win over Texas and had 34 tackles this year as a premier pass rusher. Dareus never expected to be in a position to leave school early for the NFL.
"I had no idea I would have excelled the way I did," he said.
Jones led all Crimson Tide receivers with 1,133 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
'Win it for Wannstedt'
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Pittsburgh players say they will be playing for Dave Wannstedt even though he will be far away when the Panthers face Kentucky today in the BBVA Compass Bowl (Noon, ESPN).
Wannstedt resigned Dec. 8 under pressure following a disappointing 7-5 season that included lopsided losses to Miami and rival West Virginia. The forced resignation came less than a year after Wannstedt, the former Chicago Bears coach, signed an extension through 2014.
The announcement of Wannstedt's resignation was only the start to a tumultuous month. Pitt hired Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood on Dec. 16, then fired Haywood less than three weeks later after he was jailed in Indiana on a domestic violence charge.
Wannstedt initially planned to coach the team in the bowl, but changed his mind to avoid being a distraction. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is serving as Pitt's acting head coach for the game as the renewed search for Wannstedt's replacement continues.
"It's in everybody's hearts, we want to win this one for Coach," fullback Henry Hynoski said Friday. "He did so much for us."
Bennett said Wannstedt did not want to take attention from the players at the bowl game.
Around the nation
*The NCAA put Texas Tech on two years of probation for a series of recruiting violations, saying 16 coaches or assistants sent nearly 1,000 impermissible text messages to football, softball and golf prospects. The football violations occurred between August 2007 and February 2009 under former coach Mike Leach.
*TCU has extended coach Gary Patterson's contract two years through the 2018 season. The extension Friday came a week after the third-ranked Horned Frogs completed a 13-0 season with a 21-19 victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
*In Frisco, Texas, Bo Levi Mitchell led three straight late touchdown drives, the finale coming with 2:47 left, leading Eastern Washington to a 20-19 victory over Delaware and its first FCS championship.