How Big A Deal Is First Year QB?

One of the legendary stories of Alabama football is Hall of Fame Coach Frank Thomas being approached by micro-managing/football fan extraordinaire President George Denny about the upcoming season. Thomas said things would be fine if he could come up with a quarterback.

"Didn't you know when you were recruiting the past few years that you would need a quarterback this year?" Denny replied icily.

Alabama was preparing for the 1966 season following national championships in 1964 and 1965. Legendary Crimson Tide Coach Paul Bryant said – with a straight face – "We don't have a quarterback this year." And, after a pause. "Unless you count Stabler."

Quarterback is the most important position on the football field, and there is a belief that a team with a first-year starter is like a ship without a captain. That's not necessarily the case, particularly at Alabama.

This year Alabama will have a first-year starter, almost certainly either third year sophomore A.J. McCarron or second year freshman Phillip Sims.

Bama Coach Nick Saban said earlier this year, "I think you all need to change your mindset about this quarterback thing and get out of the competition world and just say we've got two quarterbacks here that both have had a really good spring and both have played really well. And every time they have an opportunity to play, we'll see how they respond to that circumstance and situation."

There was even a point in the spring when Saban said there was a possibility – repeat, possibility – that Bama would use two quarterbacks.

Saban isn't likely to be worried about having a first year quarterback. In 2009 Alabama had Greg McElroy, who had never started a game and had precious little game experience in his first three years at Alabama. McElroy, of course, quarterbacked Alabama to a 14-0 record and the national championship, and came back the next year with a 10-3 record at quarterback.

There have been many first year starting quarterbacks at Alabama who have done well. That 1966 team Bryant was talking about? Kenny Stabler started and led Bama to an 11-0 record, including a 34-7 spanking of Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl. The only reason that wasn't a national championship season for Bama is that the Associated Press rigged the vote for Notre Dame.

In 1971 Alabama started a magnificent second half of the Bryant era by switching to the wishbone offense. A new quarterback, Terry Davis, and a new quarterback coach, Mal Moore, made it a fantastic transition. Alabama went 11-0 in regular season play (including a 17-10 upset of pre-season No. 1 Southern Cal in Los Angeles) before losing to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl in a game for the national championship.

Two years later Gary Rutledge took over at quarterback and led the Tide to an 11-0 regular season and the national championship in the UPI (coaches) poll.

No one seemed concerned when Joe Namath took over for the graduated Pat Trammell at quarterback in 1962, even though Trammell had led the Tide to the 1961 national championship with an 11-0 record. Namath came just short of the ultimate goal as Bama suffered a one-point loss and settled for a 10-1 season.

Steadman Shealy also had a national championship quarterback to follow when Shealy became the Tide starter in 1979. Jeff Rutledge had quarterbacked Bama to the 1978 national championship, won in the dramatic 14-7 "Goal Line Stand" Sugar Bowl win over Penn State. In 1979 Shealy quarterbacked the Crimson Tide to a 12-0 record, including a 24-9 win over Lou Holtz's Arkansas Razorbacks in the Sugar Bowl to give Bryant his sixth and final national championship.

Steve Sloan quarterbacked Alabama to the national championship in 1965, the first year the issue was decided by the Associated Press following bowl games, as Sloan was MVP in the Orange Bowl win over Nebraska. Jay Barker quarterbacked Bama to a 12-0 record, including victory in the first Southeastern Conference Championship Game and a romp over Miami in the Sugar Bowl and the national championship. Although both were the full-time starters for the first time in those title years, both had limited starting experience in earlier seasons.

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