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Hurts So Good.

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How good he gets is the question.

CFP National Championship Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Jalen Hurts is trash.”

That’s what a caller said on Finebaum this past week. He spoke in monotone on the lower end of the register. Imagine Billy Bob Thornton’s affectation in Sling Blade but take away the gravel. That’s about what the guy sounded like. Also, he dipthonged the hell out of the last word so that it came out as “Tray ash.”

“They should start the Hawaiian.”

I was driving so forgive me if the above is a paraphrase rather than an exact quote. I wasn’t able to write it down, but you get the gist. He backed his thesis up by repeating that Jalen Hurts is multisyllabic rubbish. It wasn’t exactly Firing Line I was listening to.

Too often, when debating something incendiary - sports, nachos, especially politics - we tend to find the worst example of our opposite side and then smear that outlier with every malignant bone in our body as if it represented the whole of the counter argument. It’s a fun rhetorical trick, even if it does dodge the actual meat of the given disagreement. You set up a false choice: “Don’t agree with me? You must be on the side of whatever gilded dipshittery I’ve presented as your only other option.”

A few of us are feeling lumped in with the “tray ash” because we have not toed the line re Jalen’s projected output. It’s a bit more nuanced than that.

I should note here that I love Hurts and from all reports he is improving as a passer. His placement with the long ball in the A-Day game was a summer breeze of refreshing football joy. It’s looking like he’s the type of guy that will need to wear shades in the future. But there are certain among us who assume that just because he will have another year in the system, get more experience, mature, get comfortable in the offense - whatever phrase you have for it - he will automatically get better. Unfortunately, the numbers say that’s not the way it works.

My college football blog addiction began in 2007. Shula had just been fired and I was working at a restaurant owned by a hedge fund manager/Alabama booster who would drop cryptic comments about the coaching search. I’d scour the web trying to verify or corroborate whatever nuggets he dispensed. In that miasma of half truths and rumor, I came across Sunday Morning Quarterback.

The site’s down now, and I miss it. It was run by Matt Hinton, later of Yahoo Sports and CBS Sports. It really was tremendous. One of his most memorable posts was about the success rates of three year starters.

He ran the numbers going back a multitude of years and found that three year starters tend to establish a baseline performance the first year, improve or (usually) do worse the second year, and then return to first year form the third.

Hinton let Sunday Morning Quarterback go and his articles are now lost to the internet (like tears in rain), but here’s a later post he did for Football Study Hall referencing the earlier article. If nothing else, we can dispose of the notion that just because a quarterback spends time in a system they are bound to improve.

The typical RBR post stipend is a bit too small to start crunching numbers over multiple seasons. I ain’t got free time for that and Erik denied my request for danger pay on the grounds that a recent spate of refunds have left the coffers a bit dry. So I did the minimum and culled the numbers from last year’s three plus year starters.

The things I do for you people.

For my purposes, I defined “starter” as any qb who threw more than 150 every year for the last three years but made allowances (J.T. Barrett only threw 147 times in 2015 and Thomas Woodson had 143 in 2014, but they led their teams in a passing attack for a substantial period so I included them). By my loose metric there were twenty three starters with three plus years under their belts by the end of last season. By the end of the third year, eight of them posted a worse qb rating than they did their first year, eleven were better, and four were more or less the same. So, per 2016, 52% of three plus year starters don’t get better.

So back to Jalen Hurts.

I think he’s going to be a superstar. He may not win all the Heismans, but by the end of his Alabama career he’d be a guy to ask about LaGuardia baggage claims. He looks to be on the track to greatness. But there are questions, and despite what those who assume that improvement is inevitable say, they are reasonable questions.

If Hurts has hit his ceiling as a passer, or if he hits it without being the best passer on the team, what combination of leadership and running ability ameliorates any throwing deficiencies? Does a quarterback’s running ability matter as much given the depth of talent at the running back position? Both of those questions at a deeper level ask what we expect of a quarterback at Alabama. If we don’t play our best passer, are we losing production from what looks to be an embarrassingly good wide receiver corps?

Saban said that last season was unfair to Hurts as a developing quarterback as he spent the year in game preparation rather than practicing technique. That seems fair to point out. The devil’s advocate in me asks why - in the age of seven on seven, qb camps, and elite whatever the number is now - a kid who has been learning a craft since puberty is suddenly going to make a jump in a matter of months? Again, I think Hurts wins most of the Heismans, but it’s not an unfair question.

Complicating matters is the cult of “the Hawaiian.” Tua Tagovailoa is going to be one of the all time greats. I have no doubt. His performance on A-Day was something to behold, he looks off safeties, checks down in a blink, and snaps his delivery. There is going to be a lot of love for the backup should Hurts falter. But those calling for the second will be thinking about how well Tagovailoa did in the A-Day game against the second team defense. He was exquisite. Against the first team he was human, better than me or you human, but human. He’s a work in progress. Hurts is too, but Hurts is the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year.

In the end, we are looking at #AlabamaProblems writ large. We have multiple wunderkinds in need of polish, but they are still wunderkinds. We should all be Jalen men (and women), because he’s the starter, but it’s not unpatriotic to question.

This entire debate goes sideways when Mac Jones puts on another fifteen pounds.

[An Aside: While going through the 128 teams to see who had three year starters I was reminded of my favorite bar trivia question from those days before smart phones killed bar trivia. Anyway, without using a browser, can you name the 13 Division 1 football teams whose mascots’ names do not end in an “s”? I’ll give you a hint on the first one. It starts with “Crimso” and rhymes with “ide.” See you in the comments.]

Poll

What stupid song reference should I have used for the title of this post other than "Hurts So Good?"

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Love Hurts! Yeah, Yeah!
    (234 votes)
  • 12%
    OMG, you could only think of two?
    (72 votes)
  • 45%
    RTDB
    (252 votes)
558 votes total Vote Now