The Alabama football program sure is going to miss star quarterback AJ McCarron when he's gone.
The junior "game manager" has managed his way to a pair of BCS national titles in just two seasons as the Tide starter. Fortunately, McCarron has elected to return for his senior season at Alabama and will once again lead a title contender.
By the end of next season, McCarron will hold the vast majority of Alabama's passing records and could very well leave Tuscaloosa as the only quarterback in Division I history to win three consecutive national titles.
Unfortunately, all good things eventually must come to an end and McCarron's tenure at Alabama is no exception. When he is gone, it will be the dawn of a new era in T-Town.
Replacing a star quarterback is never an easy task, but replacing one who leaves behind quite possibly the best career of any quarterback to play at a school with the tradition that Alabama has will be even more daunting.
As it stands, there are three viable options for head coach Nick Saban. Yes, it's far too early to be looking that far ahead, but this is what the offseason is for.
Here are the most likely candidates:
Out of Murray, Utah, Cooper Bateman will be a freshman with the Tide in 2013, but he has already enrolled in classes and will be available for spring camp. He was ranked by scout.com as the fifth-best quarterback prospect of the 2013 class.
As a senior, Bateman passed for 2384 yards and 15 touchdowns while also running for 12 more scores. He has a huge arm and can throw the deep ball, but he also has good footwork so he is not limited to pocket passing.
The only concern with Bateman is that he will either be a redshirt freshman or a sophomore by the time McCarron is gone. But that's what they said about McCarron when he replaced Greg McElroy, too.
As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Ely saw very limited time in some Alabama blowouts. His field time was limited to more handoffs than anything, but he completed three of four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown when he was given the opportunity to throw.
Ely was not rated extremely high out of high school, but he will be entering his fourth year in the 'Bama program when replacing McCarron becomes an issue going into the 2014 season.
After redshirting in 2010, Sims started getting reserve playing time as a freshman. Although he was recruited as a wide receiver, the multi-talented Sims was a backup running back in 2011 and ran for 107 yards on 22 carries.
Last season, Sims saw action as a backup quarterback. In this role, though, Sims ran the ball much more than he threw it and played basically a "pistol" type of position. He threw just 10 passes on the year, but he ran for 177 yards and two touchdowns on over 30 attempts.
Sims is more likely to spend his time in utility roles than as a starting quarterback for the Tide, but he is an option if needed.
Who has the inside track on replacing McCarron in 2014?
Based solely on what the Tide has now, it is fairly evident that either Bateman or Ely will be the next starting quarterback at Alabama. My guess is that Bateman will win out. This all depends, of course, on who Saban might bring in with the 2014 class.
The most important thing for the Tide right now, though, is to enjoy and get the most out of McCarron while they can. He is quickly becoming a legend and will not be replaced easily.