In his first year as a starting quarterback in 2009, Greg McElroy helped lead Alabama to a BCS title. In 2011, in his first year as a starting quarterback, AJ McCarron helped lead the Tide to Nick Saban‘s second of three BCS titles at UA.
With McCarron’s eligibility expired, Saban will be looking to replace that experience and production under center with yet another first-year starter. Ahead of that, the coach is looking to tap the brakes on, well, any optimism that may be rearing its ugly, unwanted and unwarranted head.
The two main combatants in the fight to replace McCarron are fifth-year senior Blake Sims (pictured) and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Entering 2014, and even with inexperience at the most important position on the field — neither Sims nor Coker have started a game at the collegiate level — the Tide is viewed as a betting favorite to claim yet another national championship.
At least for the moment, Saban is pooh-poohing and downplaying any type of favorite talk despite what’s happened the last two times he’s had a first-year starter at quarterback.
“Well I think it is a little bit unrealistic because basically what you’re talking about is two guys [who] are untested,” said Saban during an ESPN interview when asked about title expectations. “And when you have an untested player at that position, you can be pleasantly surprised with the way they develop and how they do and how the team sorta rallies around them and the impact of their leadership, decision-making, those things are critical at the quarterback position. …
“They can also go to where they turn the ball over and do some things that make it hard to overcome. Because quarterback is such a critical position to me. Football is a great team game, but then there’s the quarterback. And most successful teams have a guy that, at least in their system, is functionally successful for the other players on the team. And in our case, because we have good skill guys, it’s important that our guy can distribute the ball to those guys and make those guys effective players for us.”
(Writer’s note: the Tide QB competition is officially a two-man thing, based on Saban’s quotes.)
Entering summer camp, and even as he has yet to take a snap as a member of the Crimson Tide, Coker is viewed as the heavy favorite to win the starting job. Consistency and lack of turnovers will be key regardless of which player actually wins out.
Whether Coker’s the way it plays out remains to be seen; what’s certain is that, with a first-year starter, Saban & Company will rely on its loaded backfield, including the three-headed monster of T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake — arrest and suspension notwithstanding — to help the starter get his feet wet, especially early on.