It’s fitting that a lot of Alabama football fans compare big annual events to Christmas, especially when they’re anxious and not certain about what’s coming.
The first game of the season definitely qualifies as one of them, and when it comes to the ongoing quarterback competition we’ve reached the part of the week that invokes the beginning of the poem “The Night Before Christmas,” with no one stirring, not even a computer mouse.
That, of course, will soon change. Electronic alerts, messages and stories will be sent, posted and seen far and wide as soon as Nick Saban makes an announcement or there's a first confirmed sighting of a starting quarterback before No. 3 Alabama takes on No. 20 Wisconsin in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.
Will it be senior Jake Coker, sophomore Cooper Bateman or junior Alec Morris?
That’s how the three leading contenders were listed with the first unit on Alabama’s depth chart released Monday. It had a defined starter listed at nearly every other position—the exceptions being nose guard, right guard, tight end-H (the one who is also a receiver) and X wide receiver—but there were five names crammed into two spaces at quarterback.
The second team had true freshman Blake Barnett and redshirt freshman David Cornwell, so all five quarterbacks were listed. Who says Saban doesn’t have a sense of humor?
Although after eight months, including spring practices and training camp, the coach still wasn’t ready to say who will take the first snaps, no one would be surprised if that ends up being the order in which they play this season: Coker-Bateman-Morris.
Still, even though they’re sick of being asked about it, their teammates have been saying the right things this week.
“I don’t think it made a difference (during practice),” senior center Ryan Kelly said. “Whoever was in there, it was whatever. We were just going to roll with it. We weren’t going to change our pace or how we play. We were just going to keep on going.”
“You just go in and make sure you do exactly what you need to do,” senior running back Kenyan Drake added. “You can’t really worry about what somebody else does at the quarterback position. As long as I have everything I need to do and the quarterback has what he needs to do on cue, then it shouldn’t really matter.”
During the SEC coaches' teleconference on Wednesday morning, all Saban would offer was, "We're going to make the best decision for our team."
So when might he announce the starter? Just like with the quarterback question itself, there are still numerous possibilities, some looking better than others:
• Wednesday evening: Saban has a press conference after practice. The guess here is that he won’t announce anything because he’ll want to meet with coaches to go over the practice film and tell the players the decision before saying anything to the media.
• Thursday night: The Nick Saban Show will air for the first time during the 2015 season, and last year the coach revealed personnel decisions during radio broadcasts. If Odds Shark was taking bets this would bring the worst return, because at this point there's nothing left to be gained by continued silence. All of the practices have been held, and it’s really too late for Wisconsin to change much in its defensive game plan.
• Friday: Alabama has a final walkthough and flies to Dallas.
• Saturday morning: Saban will almost certainly be interviewed on ESPN’s College GameDay show in the morning. Regardless of what happens between now and then, the chances are pretty good the first question will be about the quarterback position.
• Saturday evening: Maybe Saban won’t say a thing and just let the starting quarterback run out onto the field for the first offensive play. However, the starter will have taken snaps with the first unit during warm-ups, one hour prior to kickoff.
Then comes the next question: Will Alabama play more than one quarterback? A lot will obviously depend on how the game develops, so Saban isn’t ruling it out.
“There's been a lot of people who have success playing two quarterbacks, especially if they have a different style, which a couple of our guys do have a different style,” he said.
Granted, every quarterback is different, but this isn’t like last year, when Blake Sims and Jake Coker had contrasting styles and Saban had offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin speed things up because Sims was more comfortable running a fast-pace offense.
This time, the differences are much more subtle.
“Coker has a great arm,” junior tight end O.J. Howard said. “Cooper Bateman throws the ball precise (sic). Alec has a great leadership (quality), and he also throws the ball precise. Each guy does different things, but they all do something really well.”
So fans are left wondering and wishing for their favorites, knowing that the answer is finally close at hand. It is a holiday weekend, after all.
“No matter which quarterback starts, I think the quarterback that starts will be the guy for us,” Howard said. “I have confidence in him that he’ll get the job done.”
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.