For the third consecutive year, Alabama will have a new starter at the most important position on the field -- quarterback. For the past two years Lane Kiffin has been the Crimson Tide’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, and he has provided Bama will outstanding QB performers in Blake Sims in 2014 and Jacob Coker in 2015. Both were most valuable players in leading Alabama to Southeastern Conference championships and into the College Football Playoff, and Coker led the Tide to the national title.
Alabama will begin spring practice in March and conclude with the A-Day Game in Bryant-Denny Stadium on April 16.
With the Tide having won four national championships in the past seven years, expectations are naturally high for Coach Nick Saban’s team. Year-after-year the challenge of having a winning quarterback has been met.
Here is an early look at the quarterback position going into spring practice.
There are three returning quarterbacks on the roster, but none have much experience. They are:
Cooper Bateman, a 6-3, 220-pound junior from Murray, Utah, who has won two letters (although in 2014 it was for holding on placekicks, not quarterback play).
David Cornwell, a 6-5, 221-pound third-year sophomore from Norman, Okla.
Blake Barnett, a 6-5, 205-pound redshirt freshman from Corona, Calif.
There is also a new quarterback in the competition.
Jalen Hurts, a 6-2, 212-pound freshman from Channelview, Texas, entered The University for the spring semester.
All came to Alabama with excellent credentials. 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. Cornwell, who missed half his senior season with a knee injury, was an Elite 11 quarterback who was invited to The Opening and selected to play in the Under Armour All-American Game. Scout ranked him the number 7 quarterback in the nation. Barnett was a five-star, the most valuable player in the Elite 11 competition, led his team to the championship in the Under Armour All-America game, and was ranked among the top three quarterbacks in the nation. Hurts was a four-star prospect ranked the nation’s seventh best quarterback.
All four of the candidates were able to graduate from high school early and enter Alabama for an extra spring practice (although Cornwell was recovering from knee surgery and did not participate on the field his first year).
Alec Morris would have been a candidate, but elected to transfer to North Texas after earning his degree in December.
As has often been noted, the quarterback is very much dependent upon the men around him. This year’s quarterback will have a new center, Rimington Award winner and three-year starter, All-America Ryan Kelly, having graduated. The new quarterback will also have a new man behind him, Heisman Trophy winner and the SEC’s all-time leading rusher tailback Derrick Henry moving on to the NFL.
There are other losses on offense, too, as is almost always the case in college football, but that up-the-middle void in returning starters stands out.
Bateman was the back-up to Coker last season, but he was a little-used back-up – just as Coker has been to Sims, and before that Sims to A.J. McCarron.
Bateman did start one game last year, Alabama’s lone loss to Ole Miss. Although the loss could hardly be put on his shoulders, he is probably remembered more for that performance than any other.
Perhaps what should be remembered is that in the eyes of Saban and Kiffin, Bateman was still at least even with Coker in the quarterback battle three games into the 2015 season. It should also be noted that the Bama quarterback history under Saban has been that all previous starters – Greg McElroy, McCarron, Sims, and Coker – first served time as back-up quarterbacks.
Last year Bateman was 37-52 for 291 yards and 1 TD with 2 interceptions.
Obviously, the critical decision of starting quarterback will be made after much work – the off-season program (in which leadership is key), spring practice, the summer drills, and fall camp. And even then, as in some previous seasons including last year, it may not be set in stone.
Our guess is that spring will start with Bateman first, Cornwell second, Barnett third, and Hurts fourth. No one should be surprised if that order changes by the Southern Cal game. It is of more than passing interest that when players discuss the position, the name that seems to come up most often is Blake Barnett.
NEXT: A look at the tailback position.