Stuart McNair

Alabama has had excellence under Nick Saban with first-year quarterbacks

Several factors lead to conclusion Alabama will be solid at quarterback

ln what is ordinarily a treacherous situation, Alabama will be breaking in a new starting quarterback in 2016. No other position benefits more from experience than quarterback, and this year’s Crimson Tide starter – whoever it may be – will have either very little or no college football quarterback experience.


And yet, there seems to be little worry about quarterback among the Alabama faithful. Curiosity, yes, but not concern.


Perhaps that’s because Alabama has recruited highly-regarded players for the position. The candidates for the job this year in order of class are junior Cooper Bateman (6-3, 224, Murray, Utah), sophomore David Cornwell (6-5, 234, Norman, Okla.), redshirt freshman Blake Barnett (6-5, 200, Corona, Calif.), and true freshman Jalen Hurts (6-2, 210, Channelview, Texas). Hurts did participate in spring practice.


Another reason for some comfort level among quarterback watchers is that Lane Kiffin, the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator the past two years, has been outstanding in replacing starters with newcomers and having excellent results in fitting the skills of the quarterbacks with the offense.


And that’s part of the overall success of Alabama with first-year quarterbacks under Nick Saban. He has had four first-year starting quarterbacks in his nine seasons at The Capstone and those five have delivered an overall record in those first seasons as starters of 52 wins against four losses with three national championships. (Greg McElroy 14-0 national championship in 2009, AJ McCarron 12-1 national championship in 2011, Blake Sims 12-2 in 2014, and Jake Coker 14-1 and national championship in 2015.)


In looking at the past, one would believe that Bateman is prepared to step in as the 2016 starter, and that may very well happen. But Saban and Kiffin will be looking for the best quarterback who is the best fit when fall camp opens around the first of August. The decision – again, looking at the history under Saban – may or may not be decided when the Crimson Tide opens the season Sept. 3 against USC in Arlington, Texas.


Here is the sequence of new quarterbacks under Saban:


In 2009, following the senior season of John Parker Wilson (whom Saban inherited from Mike Shula and who started in Bama’s first two seasons under Saban), Greg McElroy moved from back-up to starter.  As the back-up in 2008, McElroy completed 8-11 passes in six games with one interception and one touchdown for 123 yards. In 2007 McElroy was also the back-up quarterback in two games, completing 8-9 passes with one touchdown and no interceptions for 73 yards.


In his first year as a starter in 2009, McElroy was superb, leading the Crimson Tide to a 14-0 record and the Southeastern Conference and national championships. He completed 198 of 325 passes with 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions for 2,508 yards.


McElroy also started in 2010, a disappointing 10-3 season, but McElroy had another great season, completing over 70 per cent of his passes (222-313) for 2,987 yards and 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions. His back-up both years was AJ McCarron, although McCarron did not play in 2009.


An interesting aspect of the McCarron showing before becoming the starter in 2011 was that in the national championship season of 2009, when he was redshirted, Saban said that it was necessary to replace McElroy in the championship stretch that the next man would be McCarron.


In 2010, McCarron completed 30-48 for 389 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.


As it turned out, he was not the clear-cut leader when the 2011 season began, but he did start every game and he claimed the starting job by the end of the second game of his sophomore year when he led the Tide to a 27-11 win at Penn State. Phillip Sims, his back-up, would play in eight games, but eventually would transfer.


McCarron certainly did not disappoint in taking the helm. Just as his predecessor, McCarron led Alabama to the national championship in 2011 as he completed 219-328 with 16 TDs and five interceptions for 2,634 yards.


Additionally, McCarron led the Crimson Tide to another national title in 2012 as he completed 211-314 for 2,933 yards and 30 touchdowns against only three interceptions. His quarterback rating was a spectacular 175.3.


In 2013 McCarron completed 226-336 for 3,063 yards and 28 interceptions with seven interceptions as the Tide went 11-2.


In both 2012 and 2013, Blake Sims was Bama’s back-up quarterback. In 10 games as a sophomore in 2012 he completed 5-10 passes for 77 yards. In eight games in 2013 he was 18-29 for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Through those two years almost no on would have considered Sims the likely heir to the quarterback job in 2014, but he proved almost everyone wrong.


Sims was Most Valuable Player in the SEC Championship Game and led Bama into the inaugural College Football Playoff. In that 11-2 season of 2014 he completed 252-391 for an Alabama record 3,487 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for 350 yards and seven touchdowns.


Jake Coker, who had probably been the fan favorite to win the job in 2014, was Sims’s back-up with play in seven games. He completed 38 of 59 passes for 403 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions.


Coker was another quarterback who did not sew up the starting job prior to the season in 2015, although he did start the first couple of games and, ultimately, 14 of 15. In his senior season he completed 263-393 for 3,110 yards and 21 TDs, eight interceptions.


And Coker became the third man in the past seven years to lead Alabama to the national championship in his first year as a starter.


His back-up was Cooper Bateman, who started one game (the lone loss in the season, to Ole Miss, but it was hardly his fault). Bateman completed 37-52 passes for 281 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.


Now we await the first-year starting quarterback who is the successor to Coker, and the third first-year quarterback in consecutive years for the Tide.

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