Finally! It Is Game Week For Bama Football

There is no college football fan who doesn’t know what happened today. As the calendar turned from Saturday to Sunday, the myriad of college football discussion topics shifts to one: Game Week.

Alabama players are enjoying an off day today, then begin regular game week preparation Monday. The Crimson Tide has already had a couple of days of work on the game plan for West Virginia. Bama will take on the Mountaineers of the Big 12 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. EDT (2:30 central time).

The Tide practiced for about two hours Saturday afternoon in full pads inside the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility with game planning for West Virginia in full swing. Saturday’s workout was the 24th of fall practice and the second day of work on the Mountaineers.

Friday’s practice was not in full gear, but was in full sun. The 90-minute workout was in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) with the temperature in the upper 90s and the heat index topping out at 102.

Part of the Coach Nick Saban routine of game week is to issue a depth chart on Monday of the first game. Expect it to come with one or more positions not decided, most notably quarterback.

Saban seems to enjoy cajoling sports reporters, saying that Alabama doesn’t really have a depth chart because every job is on the line every day. In truth, most Alabama beat reporters (and most astute Tide fans) could guess the starting lineup within a few players.

The mystery, of course, is quarterback. There are few, if any, top college football teams other than Alabama that have not yet named the starting quarterback for the opening game. Saban has indicated his concern is not whether the quarterback is Blake Sims or Jacob Coker. Sims is a fifth-year senior who has been the back-up – albeit, little-used – quarterback the past two years. Coker transferred to Bama this summer from Florida State.

Saban’s concern, instead, seems to be on one of those two grabbing the job. Reports from closed practices have been that one would seem to have the lead, only to have the other have a better practice and gaining a tentative hold on the starting position.

Does it matter?

Alabama, as almost every quarterback story has pointed out, went into the 2011 season without a clear number one. A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims (no relation to Blake) were neck-and-neck and split time in the season-opener against Kent State. By the second game, at Penn State, McCarron won the job.

McCarron led Alabama to a national championship in 2011 and again in 2012.

Which leads to another thought about Bama having a first-year quarterback. The Crimson Tide has won three of the last five national championships. In two of those years, it was with a first-year quarterback – Greg McElroy in 2009 and McCarron in 2011. In the two years Alabama did not win the title, it was won by a team with a first-year quarterback, Cam Newton at Auburn in 2010 and Jameis Winston at FSU last year.

Alabama could extend the quarterback competition into the season. Frankly, the Tide is expected to be able to dominate the first three opponents – West Virginia (coming off a 4-8 season) and home games against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss.

The fourth game is a different matter, a Florida team that had a poor record last year, but which is expected to have one of the top defensive teams in the Southeastern Conference.

A positive for the quarterback is that he has an excellent supporting cast, particularly among skill position players. Bama returns its top rushers in T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake, and Derrick Henry and most of its top receivers, led by Amari Cooper, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White, and Chris Black. Brian Vogler and O.J. Howard split tight end duties and there are reports the Tide will expand the role of H-back Jalston Fowler under new Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin.

The offensive line is not quite as star-studded, but Alabama does return center Ryan Kelly, right tackle Austin Shepherd, and left guard Arie Kouandjio. Freshman Cameron Robinson seems to have the left tackle job, while Alphonse Taylor has been at right guard as Leon Brown and Dominick Jackson have recovered from injuries.

One problem with the unsettled quarterback situation is that the number one quarterback gets the vast majority of practice repetitions with the first offense. Is that important? If it wasn’t important, Saban (and virtually every other coach) wouldn’t do it that way.

So what will the Monday Alabama depth chart tell us about quarterback?

Not much more than we know now.

There are always a few positions where there is an “OR” between two or more players at a spot.

Our prediction is that the depth chart at quarterback will be Blake Sims OR Jake Coker, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it was Jake Coker OR Blake Sims.

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