In fact, the Tide faced Southern Miss in game seven, with only second-year freshman Brandon Avalos under center. Had Avalos been injured, Bama's coaches would have been forced to take the redshirt off Mike Machen, playing the former Minor League pitcher who had not actually taken a snap during a live game in four years.
Pennington himself had been injured just the week before, when a hard blow from a Georgia defender knocked his right shoulder out of joint. But Pennington now says that wasn't the first problem he had experienced with his throwing joint.
"I actually hurt if four years ago in high school," Pennington revealed. "But I didn't tell anybody."
Pennington actually worked his way back toward the end of last year to be available in a back-up role, but post-season medical tests revealed more damage than initially feared. And the junior QB was operated on in December. It was a definitely serious procedure, beyond mere arthroscopic minor adjustments.
That was the bad news. The good news is that Pennington is now ahead of schedule.
"I want to be back by the spring," he stated flatly in a recent conversation with BamaMag.com. "I'm more than 30 days ahead of schedule in my rehab.
"Of course the doctors might not let me."
It's a ticklish situation. Virtually to a man athletes want to get back as fast as possible, and that's all the more true in Pennington's case where he faces real competition from both Croyle, Machen and transfer Marc Guillon. From the player's point of view, every day spent on the sideline is a wasted chance to gain ground. And no one understands the importance of this spring in learning Mike Shula's offense more than his quarterbacks.
"I threw 40 soft passes the other day," Pennington said. "It felt good."
As anyone that has separated his shoulder will attest, it's not an injury to be taken lightly. Often the only hope for long-term relief lies with surgery. And after having finally undergone the procedure himself, Pennington is glad he did.
"It's been four years since I could sleep at night on that side," he explained. "My shoulder feels better now than it has in a long time.
"The surgery was something I needed to have done."
Without surgery, an athlete can work to strengthen the muscles around the joint, which has benefit. But once stretched, the ligaments will not return to their original length without medical help.
"It's tight now," Pennington said of his surgically repaired shoulder.
Pennington saw action in four games last season for Alabama, completing 13-of-29 passes for 159 yards. He had one touchdown pass (against Georgia) and was also intercepted one time.
In order to get all practice days in before spring break, the Tide coaches have adjusted their calendar this year. Spring practice officially starts a week from this Saturday, (February 21) and concludes with the A-Day Scrimmage on Saturday, March 20.
One way or another, Pennington plans on being there. Don't expect him involved in any "live" action, but he'll be watching, learning--and throwing--as much as the doctors will permit.
"I'll definitely be out there on the side," Pennington said. "And I may be doing some light throwing."