Alabama Football: Realistic Expectations for the Quarterback Position in 2014

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Alabama Football: Realistic Expectations for the Quarterback Position in 2014
USA today

When Nick Saban was in his first year at the University of Alabama in 2007, some of the quarterbacks making starts for other Southeastern Conference teams were Auburn’s Brandon Cox, Kentucky’s Andre’ Woodson and Tennessee’s Erik Ainge.

As the league’s success stories ranged from Tim Tebow at Florida to Ryan Perrilloux at LSU, the Crimson Tide quietly began an impressive string of having just one quarterback start every game of the season, which is still ongoing.

Since John Parker Wilson, a second-year starter, took that first snap to help open the Saban era (a 47-yard touchdown run by Terry Grant against Western Carolina), Alabama has had only two other quarterbacks start a game, Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron.

That alone is a remarkable statistic, especially considering that both Florida and Tennessee had three in 2013 alone. While McCarron was finishing up his career with a 36-4 record as a starter, Bo Wallace of Ole Miss was the only other SEC quarterback to start every game for his team.

Overall, 28 SEC quarterbacks started at least one game last season.

According to the conference's annual season reviews during McCarron’s three years as a starter the other teams combined started 48 different quarterbacks:

Arkansas (3): AJ Derby (0-1), Tyler Wilson (15-9), Brandon Allen (3-9).
Auburn (6): Nick Marshall (10-2), Jeremy Johnson (2-0), Clint Moseley (3-5), Kiehl Frazier (1-5), Jonathan Wallace (2-2), Barrett Trotter (5-2).
Florida (5): Tyler Murphy (2-4), Skyler Mornhinweg (0-3), Jacoby Brissett (2-2), Jeff Driskel (11-3), John Brantley (15-9).
Georgia (2): Aaron Murray (35-17), Hutson Mason (1-1).
Kentucky (4): Morgan Newton (7-10), Maxwell Smith (3-9), Jalen Whitlow (2-12), Matt Roark (1-0).
LSU (4): Zach Mettenberger (19-6), Anthony Jennings (1-0), Jarrett Lee (14-4), Jordan Jefferson (24-8).
Ole Miss (4): Bo Wallace (14-12), Barry Brunetti (0-2), Randall Mackey (1-5), Zack Stoudt (1-3).
Mississippi State (3): Dak Prescott (4-4), Tyler Russell (12-9), Chris Relf (14-8).
Missouri (3): James Franklin (19-12), Corbin Berkstresser (2-2), Maty Mauk (3-1).
South Carolina (3): Connor Shaw (27-5), Dylan Thompson (3-0), Stephen Garcia (20-14).
Tennessee (6): Joshua Dobbs (1-3), Nathan Peterman (0-1), Justin Worley (5-5), Tyler Bray (13-11), Justin Worley (1-2), Matt Simms (2-8).
Texas A&M (2): Johnny Manziel (19-6), Matt Joeckel (1-0).
Vanderbilt (3): Jordan Rodgers (11-8), Austyn Carta-Samuels (8-3), Larry Smith (8-19).

If you included the 2011 season for Missouri and Texas A&M, which were still playing in the Big 12, and the number moves up to 50.

Overall, since 2007 the other SEC teams have had 133 different quarterbacks start. Auburn has had the most with 11, followed by Ole Miss (10) and Tennessee (nine). 

It’s only with that in mind can one start to project and speculate about what kind of numbers Alabama’s starting quarterback might post this season, because the odds are already against anyone starting every game.

USA TODAY Sports
Blake Sims was Alabama's leading quarterback in the spring.
A lot could also depend on how the quarterback competition plays out. In 2011, Crimson Tide coaches had McCarron and Phillip Sims split snaps during the season opener against Kent State to evaluate how they handled everything. It wasn’t until McCarron led the Week 2 victory at Penn State that he was finally handed the job.

With Alabama opening this season Aug. 30 against West Virginia at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Saban may not have that luxury this time.

Senior Blake Sims will head into training camp as the closest thing to an incumbent, finishing the spring ahead of redshirt freshman Cooper Bateman, while sophomore Alec Morris is the only other quarterback with any game experience with the Crimson Tide. But Florida State transfer Jacob Coker will likely be the player to beat.

Of course none of them have made a start at the collegiate level, which makes projecting what kind of statistics Alabama’s starter(s) might eventually post extremely difficult. The Crimson Tide will also have a new coordinator with Lane Kiffin, who will do things a little differently and try to make the offense less predictable.

Since Sims is more of a dual-threat quarterback anyway, for the sake of this discussion the assumption will be made that not only does Coker beat out his competition but remains healthy.

Number of SEC starting QBs
2007 24
2008 24
2009 18
2010 19
2011 23
2012 26
2013 29

SEC final season reviews

During his first year as a starter, 2011, McCarron completed 219 of 328 passes (66.8 percent), for 2,634 yards, with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. His passer efficiency rating was 147.3.

A year later that improved to 175.3, which led the nation, and this past season he became the Crimson Tide’s first 3,000-yard passer (9,000 career).

McElroy’s situation in 2009 was a little more similar to Coker’s in that he had to wait longer before finally getting his shot to start. He completed 198 of 325 attempts (60.9), for 2,508 yards, with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Dave Martin/Associated Press
Before AJ McCarron won a national title his first year starting, Greg McElroy did so in 2009.
The key for both was that the coaches didn’t overload them, keeping things relatively simple until the quarterbacks showed they were ready to handle more. Both went on to win the national championship but had a whole lot of help.

With T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, the running backs might compare to the unit that led the 2009 Crimson Tide, and this year's defense has the potential to eventually be outstanding. But chances are that Alabama will need to throw more than McElroy or McCarron did during their first year starting.

With Coker, coaches are hoping that he has a short learning curve after previously playing for Jimbo Fisher, a former Saban assistant coach who employs a similar pro-style offense. He appears to have a stronger arm and more playmakers to work with than his predecessors.

So while the potential is for even more, if you asked Saban right now if he’d be happy to get the same production out of the position as the 2009 and 2011 seasons, he’d probably take it in a second.

  

Christopher Walsh is the lead Alabama football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Follow @CrimsonWalsh

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