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Quarterback Controversy Looming

Most popular man on campus?
Most popular man on campus?

The noise emanating from the bleachers was far from deafening, but it was nevertheless clearly audible to those paying attention. After another third down went nowhere with the passing game, the boo birds came out in Bryant-Denny Stadium. And no real analytical abilitiy is needed to determine who those boos were directed at.

For Greg McElroy, barely scratching the surface, it would seem that he is having a career year, and one significantly better than he had a year ago in the national championship run. On the whole he is completing over 70% of his passes, averaging over nine yards per attempt, and posting a quarterback rating a good 28 points higher than he had a year ago. Such numbers, however, at least partially showcase the inherent limits of mainstream statistics in properly assessing the true level of play of any individual quarterback.

Admittedly, it's been a very tough month for McElroy, one much worse than those statistics indicate. He threw two very costly first half interceptions in Fayetteville, and while his play against Florida was solid, no quarterback will ever highlight a resume with an 84-yard passing performance. Against South Carolina he was largely a disaster, and his performance against Ole Miss could be upheld as the epitome of a dink and dunk passer. While reasonable minds may disagree on who should be playing quarterback now, it is somewhat hard not to understand the frustrations of those who would prefer A.J. McCarron start under center.

Having said that, McCarron is no panacea, nor is a move necessarily imminent. The future may indeed be bright for McCarron, but for the time being he is still a freshman and the next meaningful snap he takes at this level will be the first. There is a price to be paid for such inexperience, and if Nick Saban and company really thought McCarron would be a clear-cut upgrade over McElroy, the move would probably have been made by now.

Furthermore, in fairness to McElroy, it should be pointed out that while he has likely been the single largest driving force behind the offensive struggles, the players surrounding him share at least some degree of culpability. We had protection breakdowns against Ole Miss, the wide receiver corps still has not produced a consistent playmaker outside of Julio Jones, and neither Mark Ingram or Trent Richardson seem completely healthy. Putting McCarron into the game will probably do little to fix any of those issues. Again, he is not a panacea for all of that ails the offense.

Making matters more difficult, if McElroy struggles again against Tennessee, it's a bit hard to bench him with the road trip to Baton Rouge looming next. Do you really want your freshman quarterback to make his first start in a must-win game in arguably the nation's toughest road environment going against clearly the conference's best defense? Think about that for a moment.

For better or for worse, it seems that we will likely sink or swim with McElroy under center. Clearly we need him to play better for us to make it back to Atlanta and hopefully get back into national championship contention, but for now it seems relatively unlikely that we will see a change made at the quarterback position unless we lose another another game or unless McElroy gets hurt. Again, if we were legitimately going to make a change we would have probably done so in the relatively weak stretch against Ole Miss and Tennessee in order to give McCarron some meaningful playing time before going to LSU. Agree or disagree with the final conclusion by the staff, but the feeling seems almost palpable that if Alabama is going to get back into contention this year it will have to be McElroy that takes us there.

And in that regard, McElroy ought to feel very fortunate to play for a coaching staff that places such a high value on experience and stability at the quarterback position. I wrote five days ago that many coaches, if not most, would probably have McCarron starting right now, and I still stand by that statement, especially given the fact that the biggest concern with starting a freshman would be an increase in big negative plays, something that McElroy himself has struggled to limit in recent weeks. Again, many coaches would probably opt for the big-play potential of McCarron and be willing to endure the short-term growing pains.

If we lose again, however, you can probably expect to see a new quarterback under center. With another loss we are eliminated from national championship contention and will likely be staying at home in Tuscaloosa in the first week of December, and at that point it would make very little sense to continue playing the fifth-year senior in place of a freshman who will most likely be relied upon heavily in 2011. If you remove this team from championship contention, which another loss would, then the entire dynamic changes.

Either way, regardless of how the quarterback situation shakes out as the 2010 season unfolds, we all ought to get re-acquainted with the notion of a quarterback controversy. When McElroy moves on, the McCarron v. Sims debate will begin to rage with full force. Like it or not, quarterback controversies are likely here to stay in Tuscaloosa.