Alabama football is not being written off this year. A program that has won three of the last six national championships and been in contention for a couple of others isn’t out of the 2015 picture. But the recent Southeastern Conference Media Days vote by journalists in which Auburn was picked to win the league championship raised a few eyebrows. That vote was somewhat convoluted with Bama predicted to win the SEC West, Georgia the SEC East.
Veterans of media day events suspected Auburn may have gotten a boost in Hoover by being the first school up in the four days of information overload.
It may also have benefitted by claiming more returning starters than Alabama. The Tigers listed 15 returning starters, nine lost. That’s 24 for the 22 positions. (Specialists aren’t included.) The Tide listed nine returning starters with 10 lost. That’s three fewer than the 22.Both Alabama and Auburn lost their quarterbacks. At this time a year ago, no one expected Blake Sims to win the Crimson Tide job, much less set Bama records for passing yards and touchdowns in a 12-2 season. He earned second team All-SEC and was MVP in leading his team to the SEC championship and was MVP of the championship game.
Auburn also lost its quarterback, two-year starter Nick Marshall, who was very effective for the 8-5 Tigers.
This spring, Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn proclaimed Jeremy Johnson his starter. Johnson has been a two-year back-up to Marshall and is considered an outstanding passer, but not the runner that Marshall was. Last year he completed 28 of 37 passes for 436 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Alabama did not anoint a 2015 starter in fall work. Five men were given roughly equal amount of practice time with what would be considered the first offense. At the end of spring practice, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said that the competition would continue in fall camp this August.
Five quarterbacks are also working out this summer, honing their skills and timing with receivers. We’ve heard their names many times – senior Jacob Coker, junior Alec Morris, sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell, and true freshman Blake Barnett.
Coker is the only one with much Tide QB experience, completing 38 of 59 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
It would have been easy enough for Saban to announce in the spring that one of those five had clearly won the job and would be Alabama’s starting quarterback. Instead, he said that it wasn’t up to him to name a starting quarterback, that all of them did things well, and that it was up to them by their ongoing performance to determine the depth chart at the position. To be sure, he would like that process to work itself out as soon as possible, but he has had men who didn’t earn the job until relatively late – A.J. McCarron in the second game of his sophomore season, Blake Sims in the second scrimmage of fall camp; last fall.
With Auburn having settled on Johnson in the spring, the perception could be that the quarterback situation is solid. With Bama waiting until fall camp (or later) to determine the starter, the perception could be that the Tide has a “quarterback problem.”
But we don’t know. Johnson will probably be fine, but it’s possible that he doesn’t have the running skill of Marshall and that Auburn can’t run the offense Malzahn wants.
It’s possible that the winner of the Alabama job will have the same success as Sims did under Quarterbacks Coach Lane Kiffin.
And it’s likely that quarterback play will figure large in the SEC and national races.