Will History Repeat?

Two years ago, the Alabama football team headed to Fayetteville, Arkansas, with more than a tinge of uncertainty. Its starting quarterback – senior Tyler Watts – would be watching from the sidelines while a young, unproven backup tried to fill his shoes. That night turned out okay: that young, unproven quarterback–redshirt freshman Brodie Croyle–completed 12 of 24 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns and got plenty of support from his offense and defense in the Crimson Tide's 30-12 victory.

It's funny the way fate unfolds sometimes.

Saturday night, the Tide will make another trip to Fayetteville–and Brodie Croyle will be watching, presumably from a La-Z-Boy in Tuscaloosa as he recuperates from reconstructive right knee surgery.

His Alabama teammates likely will feel that same nervous feeling they felt two years ago, and that's natural.

Croyle's replacement, sophomore Marc Guillon, will be making his first collegiate start. It'll be the first of at least eight this season, made while Croyle recovers from surgery.

Having Guillon instead of Croyle at quarterback is cause for concern, but it doesn't necessarily mean Alabama fans should write the season off before Guillon takes his first snap.

The Chico, California, native doesn't have the credentials and pomp surrounding Croyle (few do), but Guillon definitely comes close.

Miramonte (California) High, Guillon's alma mater, has produced, by former Head Coach Floyd Burnsed's estimate, "12 or 13" Division I quarterbacks in the past 20 years. They include former Miami and current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Ken Dorsey, Tennessee Titans receiver Drew Bennett, and former Duke quarterback Adam Smith.

When Guillon was a high school sophomore, he and Burnsed visited Dorsey at a Miami spring practice. Then-Hurricanes Coach Butch Davis noted Guillon's 6-3, 210-pound frame, and asked Burnsed of his young pupil's potential.

Burnsed told Davis Guillon would be "real good."

That day, Davis offered Guillon a scholarship.

The kicker? Guillon hadn't even started a high school game yet.

When you're offered a Miami scholarship before starting a single varsity game, chances are you can handle a trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Keep in mind that Mike Shula didn't exactly pull Guillon off the street Saturday night and insert him in the starting lineup.

Guillon played as a true freshman at Miami in 2002 before a falling-out with new Coach Larry Coker over playing time led him to Alabama.

He has experienced a full year in Shula's system and took virtually every snap in spring practice while Croyle and backup Spencer Pennington recovered from shoulder surgery.

And while fall practices–where Guillon is preparing this week–are all but closed to the public and news media, Guillon has put a polished face forward in public.

He completed five-of-seven passes for 71 yards and a score in relief of Croyle against Western Carolina, leading two scoring drives before yielding to Pennington.

And he has been completely poised and articulate in the countless interviews he has done since Croyle's right knee buckled early in the third quarter last Saturday.

Does that mean anything if his heart starts racing and he forgets what he knows before 72,000 fans in rubber hog hats Saturday?

Of course not.

Guillon must be at least passable for Alabama to fulfill the potential and buzz Croyle built.

Before Croyle went down, there was legitimate reason to believe Alabama would be 7-0 heading into a matchup with Tennessee October 23.

Now, not so much, unless Guillon steps forward.

Croyle was only one piece of Alabama's offense, but there is no question he was the biggest piece. Many of the Tide's young receivers have run most of their routes in practice and games with Croyle at the other end.

And the rebuilt offensive line has built its schemes to protect Croyle–which it did to the very end.

Now Alabama's coaches and Guillon's new first-string teammates must adjust to his styles while he adjusts to them.

It might not be an easy transition, but let us remember that Guillon won't be the only player on the field Saturday. Last October, Alabama trotted out third-string quarterback Brandon Avalos (who knew only a shell of the offense) and still beat Southern Miss by two touchdowns.

Playing Arkansas in Fayetteville will be very different than hosting Southern Miss in Bryant-Denny Stadium, but the point is this: the Tide has a defense that can win football games without a superstar at quarterback.

Guillon might stun us all and turn into that superstar Saturday afternoon.

If he doesn't, though, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will not roam the earth.

Losing Brodie Croyle hurts the Tide. Badly.

But as Croyle himself showed two years ago, a team can survive and thrive without its quarterback.

Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat reporter for the Birmingham Post-Herald and writes this weekly column for BamaMag.com


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