A.J. McCarron

Another spring, another question about Alabama’s starting quarterback

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Few teams have the luxury of simply reloading during the spring in the transition from one year to the next like Alabama. Years of top-notch recruiting have allowed Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide to focus on restacking the deck rather than rebuilding on a regular basis. Alabama is still one of the betting favorites to win the SEC and will very likely be ranked highly in the preseason polls once again. Despite all of that, which has become the norm for the Tide under Saban, for the second straight spring Alabama will be faced with a question about the starting quarterback.

Who’s it going to be?

Among the candidates vying for the job of replacing Blake Sims starting this spring are Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell, Alec Morris and, yes, Jake Coker. Coker, a former transfer from Florida State, had many suspecting he would be the leading candidate for the starting job at Alabama last season, but Sims grabbed a firm hold of the job pretty early on and never let go. That worked out well for Alabama, Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Now the work begins to find the next starting quarterback for the Tide. Could Coker come back and be the leading candidate for the job this spring?

You can also throw in freshman early enrollee Blake Barnett, one of the top quarterback recruits Saban has recruited to Alabama. Although Saban may have a knack for not giving control of the offense on the field to a true freshman, Barnett has been eager to get started with his preparation for the spring and show he is capable of handling the job. While he may be considered the future quarterback for the Crimson Tide, even he realizes he may have to wait for his time to come.

Saban, perhaps in typical Saban fashion, is not ruling it out the possibility Barnett steps in sooner than you might think.

“I wouldn’t rule that out at all,” Saban said recently, according to ESPN.com. “If he’s the best player, why would we not play him? That’s like saying a guy is from California, so we should not play him because he’s from California.”

There is no question Saban will put the players he feels give Alabama the best chance to succeed on the field at any position. If Barnett puts together a strong spring, then the conversation will not take long to heat up in Tuscaloosa. With the new College Football Playoff format in place, Alabama and any other top program has a little extra breathing room to allow for some experimentation, but Saban is not going to take long to stick to his gut when it comes time to making a quarterback decision and he will likely stick to it. It worked out with A.J. McCarron and it worked out with Sims.

So who’s next?

Marcus Mariota named Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner

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Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is expected to receive some hardware this week, and that got started Monday afternoon. Mariota was named the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award winner by the Johnny Unitas Foundation. The award goes to the nation’s top senior quarterback in the country. The award is based on on-field performance, scholastic achievement and character. Mariota seems to check off each one of those considerations.

“Marcus is as humble and gracious off the field as he is poised and electrifying on it,” said Andy McNamara, Assistant Athletic Director for the University of Oregon in a statement released by the Johnny Unitas Foundation. “He is an exceptional ambassador for not just the football program, but the University of Oregon as a whole.”

Mariota had the nation’s sixth highest pass completion percentage and was among the nation’s leading passers with 3,773 yards and 38 touchdowns to just two interceptions. His passer rating of 186.1 was unrivaled by any other quarterback in the country, and a good 15 points ahead of the second best rating in the country owned by Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson.

Last year’s Golden Arm Award winner was A.J. McCarron of Alabama. Mariota is the first Oregon player to win the award, which was first presented in 1987, and the first player from the Pac-12 (Pac-10) to win the award since Andrew Luck of Stanford in 2011.

Maxwell Football Club award finalists include Mariota, Prescott, Gordon and Beasley

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The Maxwell Football Club has announced the three finalists for each of its individual awards, the Maxwell Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon have been named finalists for the Maxwell Award. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III have been named finalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award.

the Maxwell Award is presented to the top player in college football as determined by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel. The award does not always go to the player that wins the Heisman Trophy. Last year, for example, the Maxwell Award went to Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. Mariota, Gordon and Prescott may be likely names to be heading to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation at the end of the season, but the odds may be good the Maxwell Award goes to another player. No Oregon or Mississippi State player has ever won the Maxwell Award, but Wisconsin has one. The last running back to iwn the award was Penn State’s Larry Johnson in 2002.

The Chuck Bednarik Award is in its 20th season and goes to the top defensive player as determined by the Maxwell Football Club and its voters. Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald won the award last season. Whichever player wins the award this year will be doing so for the first time in school history.

this year’s winners for each award will be announced on December 11 during The Home Depot College Football Awards Show on ESPN. The awards will be formally presented in Atlantic City, New Jersey in March as part of the Maxwell Football Club’s Awards Gala.

UPDATE: Fans won’t get to throw a pie in Harvey Updyke’s face

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I don’t know who this’ll be more popular amongst, Alabama fans or Auburn fans. Or who’d more want to take a shot at him.

Regardless, Harvey Updyke, the Alabama fan who poisoned the famed oak trees at Auburn’s Toomer’s Corner a couple of years ago, has agreed to appear at a charity function in Mobile, Ala., next month, ESPN.com‘s Mark Schlabach reported. At this charity event, which is being held to raise funds for a family whose young son died of cancer last month, “fans will be allowed to either dunk [Updyke] in a dunking booth or throw pies at his face,” Schlabach wrote.

Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and his mother are helping raise awareness to the event, but it’s Updyke’s (potential) presence that’ll trigger the most attention nationally. The event’s organizer, Alabama fan T.J. Hodges, stated the “Updyke idea came from me thinking outside the box to raise money for the family” and that “I thought I’d take a chance and see if Harvey was interested in helping, and he said he’d do whatever we wanted.”

It did, though, take Updyke a while to get to that point.

“He thought about it and thought about it,” Updyke’s wife, Elva, told Schlabach. “His daughter said he needed to do it because it will show that he’s not as big of a nut as some people believe. He told them they can do whatever they want to him if it will raise money for kids.”

Updyke, as “Al from Dadeville,” infamously called into the Paul Finebaum radio show in February of 2011 and claimed to have poisoned the Toomer’s oaks after Auburn beat Alabama in the 2010 Iron Bowl. He was subsequently arrested, charged and ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of criminal damage of an agricultural facility, a Class-C felony. He was sentenced to three years in jailhe served 180 days of the sentence — and was placed on supervised probation for a period of five years. During that probationary period, he has a 7 p.m. curfew.

Additionally, Updyke, who now lives in Louisiana less than an hour from the LSU campus, was ordered to pay $800,000 in restitution and has been barred from the following: any Auburn University property, any collegiate sporting event and speaking to the media.

While there was initial hope that the oaks could be saved, they were ultimately taken down after one final roll. New trees are expected to be planted next year.

UPDATE (8:20 p.m.):  Who would have thought the opportunity to throw a pie in the face or dunk infamous Alabama fan Harvey Updyke in water would take a turn for the worse? OK, it was probably inevitable.

Upon the announcement that Updyke would make an appearance at a charity function in Mobile, Ala. for children with cancer, it turned ugly. The mother, Dee Dee Bonner, and wife, Katherine Webb, of former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron both received death threats on social media due to their help organizing the event. As a result, Updyke’s appearance has been cancelled.

“It seems to be taking away from the primary purpose, which is raising awareness for children’s cancer,” Bonner told ESPN.com. “We don’t want to take away from the focus. We needed to get away from it.”

“I think Mr. Updyke’s heart was in the right place with what he wanted to do, but I think too many people are still upset about what he did and haven’t gotten over it. I didn’t approve of what he did, but I think he really wanted to help.”

“We want to focus on the real heroes, which are these children fighting for their lives and their families.”

Alabama won’t make a decision at QB until someone ‘clearly wins job’

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban isn’t happy with the persistent questions from the media regarding the team’s quarterback competition. Saban isn’t prepared to name a starting quarterback, and he may not do so before the Crimson Tide takes the field Aug. 30 against the West Virginia Mountaineers in Atlanta.

Senior Blake Sims (pictured above) and junior Jacob Coker have been battling throughout fall camp to lead the Crimson Tide onto the field, and neither of the signal callers have truly separated themselves from the other. Saban doesn’t plan to name a quarterback until one does.

“Until someone clearly wins the job, we’re not going to make a decision,” Saban said when he addressed the media Saturday.

Coker, a Florida State transfer, has generally been considered the favorite to win the competition. Coker may have lost to Jameis Winston in a quarterback competition last year, but there clearly is no shame in that after Winston went on to win the Heisman Trophy and a national championship. Coker is believed to have one of the strongest arms in college football and all the tools necessary to be a dynamic passer behind Alabama’s stout offensive line.

However, Sims isn’t willing to hand the job to Coker. The senior waited his turn behind A.J. McCarron, and he’s prepared to take over the offense as a senior. At the moment, Sims’ familiarity with the team’s system gives him a slight edge over Coker.

With neither quarterback clearly establishing himself at the top of the depth chart, another option will likely be considered. Saban may utilize a two-quarterback system to start the season and let live game action determining which of the two is truly prepared to lead the team into SEC play.

Alabama will have three weeks from the start of the season to figure out the solution before it plays the Florida Gators Sept. 20.