Will the man who took the last snap of the 2015 season – a victory formation kneel-down as Alabama defeated Clemson, 45-40, in the College Football Playoff national championship game – be the man who earns the starting quarterback job in 2016?
Here is the second in our series on the outlook for the quarterback position for Alabama in 2016.
Cooper Bateman was No. 2 last year to Jake Coker. In Alabama Coach Nick Saban’s previous Crimson Tide seasons, the back-up has replaced the graduated starter. Greg McElroy, back-up to John Parker Wilson in 2007 and 2008, started in 2009. AJ McCarron, back-up to McElroy, started in 2011-13. Blake Sims, back-up to McCarron, started in 2014. And Coker, back-up to Sims, started in 2015.
Bama wide receiver ArDarius Stewart said, “Cooper Bateman is up there with the twos, the next guy in line. He’s a great player and a great person.”
Bateman, a junior, is the only one of four on-campus quarterbacks with previous Alabama game experience. Alec Morris, who had a pinch of experience, has transferred to North Texas. Along with Bateman this spring are third year sophomore David Cornwell, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, and true freshman Jalen Hurts, who joined the team for the spring semester.
We’ve all heard it, probably said it: “We need to be playing the second team quarterback!”, or something like that. The favorite player of the fans is the back-up quarterback, particularly if that second-teamer has never been seen by the fans. As the season progressed, there were few calling for Bateman to take over.
As Alabama rolled to the Southeastern Conference, Cotton Bowl, and National Championships last season, the quarterback was the ever-improving Jacob Coker (who was the Most Valuable Player of the SEC title game, offensive MVP in Arlington, and the man who threw those passes to National Championship MVP O.J. Howard).
In the wake of Coker’s success following Alabama’s one loss of the season – a game started by Bateman – it may have seemed as if the junior from Murray, Utah, had somehow been a failure.
It is true that Alabama lost one game in 2015, a 43-37 setback to Ole Miss, and it is true that Bateman started that game and was replaced by Coker, who was unable to bring Bama back to victory. But Bateman didn’t fumble the opening kickoff or a subsequent kickoff that led to 10 easy Ole Miss points, or have anything to do with the Rebels getting a freak touchdown on a pass that should have been intercepted. He did have an interception in the game that was returned 28 yards and led to a TD.
But the reason he started the game was because Nick Saban and Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin had not yet settled on Coker and thought at the time that Bateman was the best option.
Bateman said the early season competition with Coker was good. “We kind of battled it out,” Coker said. “They were back-and-forth each day. He’d have a good practice, and then I’d have a good practice. He got the start against Wisconsin, and I ended up starting against Ole Miss.
“It was fun. My goal coming here was to get that spot, and I finally got the opportunity. He came in, and did what he needed to do and we saw how it turned out from there.
“Like everyone saw, he won it, and he did great.”
Against the Rebels Bateman was 11-14 for 87 yards with the interception. His biggest failing may have been that he did not run the ball in the game, and he’s considered an excellent runner.
Coker did take over in the second quarter after Bama’s second fumbled kickoff led to the Rebels having a 17-3 lead in the game. Coker finished that game 21-44 for 201 yards and 2 TDs with 2 interceptions and rushed 7 times for 58 yards with 1 TD.
Bateman was basically the “game-time decision.” He said he and Coker were told “Monday afternoon before the first practice they still weren't sure who'd start. I found out about two hours before the game that I was going to be the first one out there. It's funny how it all played out.”
In assessing that game, Bateman said, “The clear thing is the one turnover. You can't have that. Obviously there were some nerves at the start of the game. I had to get those out of my system during the first couple of drives. Overall, I completed a lot of passes and felt good about that; and then the turnover. Obviously, I have to live with that now.”
Leading up to that Ole Miss game, Bateman had gone 7-8 for 51 yards against Wisconsin and 11-17 for 98 yards with a touchdown and an interception against Middle Tennessee.
For the year, Bateman was 37-52 for 291 yards and 1 TD with 2 interceptions.
He is a two-year letterman, but not as a quarterback. After being redshirted in 2013, he was the holder on extra points and field goals in 2014, a job he continued in 2015.
At Cootonwood High in Murray, Utah, Bateman was a four-star prospect, ranked the fifth pro-style quarterback in the nation by Scout.com and No. 1 player in the state of Utah. In his final three prep seasons he passed for 7,654 and 68 touchdowns, including a senior season in which he threw for 2,384 yards and 15 touchdowns and had 82 rushes for 277 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He arrived at Alabama in the spring semester of 2013 after choosing the Tide over LSU, Florida, Arizona, Arkansas, Auburn, and Washington.
Going forward, Bateman said Tide coaches have said “It's always been the same thing with me, just consistency and accuracy. Those are the most important things when you're out there on the field. Also, relationships with other players. I think Coke did a good job with that. He got the guys on his back. They followed him.”
As for his greatest strength, Bateman said, “Going out there with the game plan and knowing what they want me to do; but when things don't work out, and the first or second options aren't there, I can make a play with my feet. I'm not saying I'm a dual-threat guy, but I can get out of sticky situations when I need to.”
Next: David Cornwell