Former Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims' transfer to Virginia is the most painful departure the team has endured in the Nick Saban era.
The most obvious impact of the redshirt sophomore's decision to leave the program is that it leaves Alabama with no legitimate backup option if starting quarterback AJ McCarron gets injured this fall.
The price Alabama paid for signing McCarron and Sims, two of the most highly-recruited prospects available in 2009 and 2010, respectively, was that the highly-touted quarterback recruits of the 2011 and 2012 classes saw the lack of available playing time and steered clear of Alabama.
Now that Phillip Sims is gone, the lack of talented quarterbacks on the roster leaves Alabama in a bind.
Presumptive current backup Phillip Ely has never thrown a regular season pass and was essentially an afterthought to the 2011 class, a quarterback that Rivals ranked as 40th among high school seniors. From all indications, his main purpose was to fill the unofficial quota that each incoming class must include one quarterback.
Incoming true freshman Alec Morris was a consolation prize when Alabama could not land a quarterback by the name of Jameis Winston or Gunner Kiehl. Rivals ranked him 46th.
Recruiting rankings are not the final word as to college success, but nothing about either of these guys' resumes suggests that either will be ready to carry the load at this point in their careers. Considering that the more talented McCarron struggled early this season as a third-year player, it is unfair to expect much of anything from Ely or Morris in their second and first years.
Of course, that will not matter this year unless McCarron gets hurt. That isn't likely to happen, but Alabama fans have seen all too well what will happen if it does. Just as in 2004, when Brodie Croyle tore his ACL, an otherwise talented team will be derailed by awful quarterback play.
Alabama fans can hope for the best this season, but farther down the road, Sims' transfer has more definite implications.
McCarron is only a rising junior, but the recent speculation is that he may jump to the NFL if he has a productive 2012. Without Sims to take over the reins, the Tide will have a large question mark at the game's most important position in 2013, or whenever McCarron departs.
If McCarron stays two more years, Alabama can possibly either recruit or develop someone to handle the position competently in 2014. But if McCarron declares for the NFL draft after next season, or gets hurt at any point in the next two years, Alabama's quarterback position will become a liability.
Ely and Morris need several more years of seasoning before either has a chance to develop. Any incoming freshman the Tide signs will not yet be ready for action.
The Tide may have talent all over the rest of the field, but the lack of a quarterback may be fatal to its title hopes.
The post-McCarron era in Alabama football may look much like the last several years at talent-rich but quarterback-starved LSU.
Alabama may not feel it for a little while, but Phillip Sims will be missed—if not this year, then at some point in the not-too-distant future.