Why Jacob Coker Could Pull a Russell Wilson at Alabama

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Why Jacob Coker Could Pull a Russell Wilson at Alabama
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Alabama football received a needed shot in the arm Sunday when former Florida State backup quarterback Jacob Coker officially announced his signing with the Crimson Tide, per Andrew Gribble of al.com.

For months now, Coker’s plans to join Alabama ranked as perhaps the worst-kept secret in college football.

The rising junior will graduate from Florida State in May and enroll at Alabama for graduate school in time to take part in summer workouts.

Now Coker sets his sights toward following in the footsteps of another high-impact grad-student transfer, Russell Wilson, who helped lead Wisconsin to a Big Ten title in 2011.

Such a spectacular debut season in Tuscaloosa should surprise nobody.

Both quarterbacks will have inherited tremendous surrounding casts seemingly needing just a few key pieces.

Like Wilson, Coker found himself in a situation where he likely wouldn’t have been the starter at his school for the remainder of his career.

Wilson, now the quarterback of the Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks, brought the situation on himself to some extent. He signed to play professional baseball with the Colorado Rockies organization during the summer before his junior season in football.

Time away from the program didn’t seem to affect third-year starter Wilson, who, in 2010, led North Carolina State to its best record since 2002. The Wolfpack finished 2010 ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press and USA Today Sports Coaches Polls with a 9-4 record that included wins over ranked Florida State and West Virginia teams.

After the season, though, Wilson decided to give professional baseball another shot after hitting .230 at the second baseman for Colorado’s Class A Short-Season affiliate, the Tri-City Dust Devils. Since he was dedicating his time and attention toward baseball, North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien moved on to Mike Glennon.

Wilson, a former All-Conference selection, asked for a release.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The next day, he told The Charlotte News & Observer that he thought O’Brien would not give him a chance to win back the starting position.

On June 27, 2011, Wilson officially signed with Wisconsin, choosing the Badgers over Auburn. Months later, Wilson hoisted the Big Ten Championship trophy.

Unlike Wilson, Coker never started.

Coker, whom Michael Casagrande of al.com described as "a lifelong Alabama fan," backed up AJ McCarron at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Mobile, Ala. He competed with 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston for the starting job, but ultimately, he couldn't win the race.

Still, Coker drew rave reviews from teammates and coaches alike during his time in Tallahassee, including from Winston.

“Me personally, I think Jacob can go anywhere and start in any program,” Winston said to al.com before the BCS National Championship Game.

Florida State receiver Kenny Shaw told al.com that he “would probably play both guys” if he had to make the decision because of how close Coker and Winston were from a talent perspective.

Ultimately, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher appropriately chose Winston.

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

The redshirt freshman rewarded Fisher by leading the Seminoles to the 2013 national championship.

Even before Florida State players lifted the BCS Trophy, though, Coker found his stock rising, per Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com, as essentially an impending free agent.

Coker, listed at 6'5", 230 pounds, combines great size with tremendous arm talent.

“I’ve never had anybody with his size who throws it as well as he does,” Florida State QB coach Randy Sanders said to CBSSports.com. “Jake has a really quick release with tremendous arm strength. Rarely does it not spiral or not go where he wants it to go.”

The new Alabama quarterback also has mobility, though he is coming off surgery to repair a torn meniscus.

Fisher helped Coker by granting him a release from his scholarship. Doing so allowed Coker to officially sign with Alabama in January rather than having to wait until May. He immediately becomes the favorite to take the first snap for the Crimson Tide when they face West Virginia in Atlanta for the 2014 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.

Talent surrounding Coker will immediately make championship talk realistic, as was the case with Wilson.

In 2011, Wisconsin needed to replace starting quarterback Scott Tolzien after playing in the Rose Bowl. Wilson threw for 3,175 yards, accounted for 39 touchdowns and threw just four interceptions while going 11-3 as Wisconsin’s starter.

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One loss, at Michigan State, came on a game-winning Hail Mary as time expired.

The Badgers avenged that defeat in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. Wilson led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive to clinch the conference title. Alabama reached the Sugar Bowl—another BCS bowl—and must determine McCarron’s successor.

Had Coker opted to go elsewhere, there would have been no obvious front-runner heading into spring practice. Now, with clarity at the position, Alabama should be in the SEC Championship race deep into the season, as it has been for the past six seasons.

By season’s end, Coker could certainly supplant Wilson as the most impactful graduate-student transfer ever.

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