Spring football begins today, and with it comes the most (least?) anticipated quarterback battle in recent memory. It may ultimately wind up being anticlimactic, but, for now, we’re gonna play the “fun with counterfactuals” game.
In his piece in SI re: Lincoln Riley, Andy Staples imagines a world where Oklahoma’s sorry defense gets just one or two stops:
Imagine Oklahoma had stopped Georgia instead of allowing the Bulldogs to tie the Rose Bowl with 55 seconds remaining. The Sooners would have played Alabama for the national title the following week. Oklahoma’s defense, shredded by Georgia’s run game the previous week, would have allowed some first-half points—probably on long runs. But Oklahoma’s offense would have scored its share against Alabama’s defense. The game would have been close at halftime, which means Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban would not have reached the desperate point he reached down 13-0 in the actual national title game. Tua Tagovailoa would have remained on the bench, and the Mayfield-led Sooners might have outscored the Jalen Hurts-led Tide in the second half. Oklahoma might have won the national title, or Hurts might have led Alabama to one.
I don’t think his conclusion here necessarily follows though. Tua received looks in Fall, got snaps throughout the 2017 season, and it was more than apparent that win or lose down the stretch, Spring 2018 was always going to produce a quarterback battle. The issue here going forward has never been about Tagovailoa’s heroics in the CFP Championship game, rather it is about who makes the team better, who has made strides to master their craft, and and who can do more with the offense. We lovingly refer to these as “upsides”.
We may have some notion of that by the end of Spring, though I wouldn’t expect a definitive answer until fall.
BOL looks at questions facing Alabama’s offense this spring and some intriguing possibilities going forward into Fall camp.
DON’T BE SURPRISED IF…
Despite Tagovailoa’s performance in the second half of the national championship game, don’t expect the sophomore to be named Alabama’s starter. And don’t be surprised if he isn’t first in line during Tuesday’s inaugural spring practice. Saban isn’t going to tip his hand this early in the spring, especially when he still has both quarterbacks on his roster.
The biggest curiosity we have is if we see a two-quarterback system or maybe even a position change for Hurts, given his ability to make plays with his legs. Saban didn’t rule it out.
I agree with half of that, at least. Tagovailoa will have to earn the job in practice, not in the second half of one game. It was a helluva half to be sure, but still was one half. That said, I am far less sanguine about the prospects of a two-quarterback system. Trying to please both may result in dissatisfaction for either. And, I can’t imagine a world where Jalen Hurts wouldn’t at least try to give it a go under center somewhere else should he lose out to the talented freshman.
The Tide’s fifteen practices will culminate in the annual A Day game, of course. And, there may be no more highly anticipated Spring Game than the one in Tuscaloosa this April:
1. Alabama Crimson Tide (April 21)
Nick Saban will do his best to combat the “rat poison,” but the Tide have a young, exciting, loaded team that will be ranked No. 1 in most preseason polls. Tua Tagovailoa fever is here, and it will be interesting to see how he manages the quarterback situation with Jalen Hurts this spring. New offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos will be scrutinized as well.
It’s hard not to be excited about this offense though. The tetrad at running back alone should make you tingly. #RTDB
Aye Ell has their own set of storylines to watch, and I think generally Ranier got the right order. No. 2 (generally) is being downplayed for the Tua vs. Jalen debate, but it may wind up being the bigger story this season.
2. Coaching staff changes could lead to Nick Saban taking more ownership of defense
Alabama has six new coaches on staff. And only two of Nick Saban’s assistants -- Brent Key and Tosh Lupoi -- supervise the same position groups they did last season. Of course, Lupoi is also now the team’s defensive coordinator after receiving a promotion in wake of Jeremy Pruitt’s departure. With Lupoi elevated to such a significant role, it raises the question of whether Saban will have to take more ownership of the defense than he has in years past.
True that may be, and I suspect the defense will be okay, the greater question to me is who takes ownership of the offense? There are a lot of dynamic personalities and experienced faces on that half of the sideline (Dan Enos, Mike Locksley) as well as some stellar up-and-comers like Josh Gattis. And do they truly get to push away from Saban’s micromanagement? The last two offensive coordinators have had to push back hard to even get the more talented quarterback under center. The power dynamics alone will be worth watching. And. let’s not forget the entire new-look special teams Alabama is facing in every phase of the kicking game.
If you’re up for some grim news on the diamond: It wasn’t a great weekend for the Tide overall. ‘Bama baseball dropped a winnable series versus Georgia after stranding more people than flying United on standby. ‘Bama softball’s offense has completely collapsed, dropping an SEC-opening series to a dysfunctional Auburn team. (The Tide already has seven losses in a season that is just 26 games deep with SEC play just beginning.)
Keep an eye on the latter for sure. The Tide’s pitching may be stellar, but after graduation and relying on so many young bats, Alabama softball is facing a brutal SEC slate.
Recruiting never ends, does it? Here are 10 elite names to keep an eye on for the 2020 and 2021 NSD classes. (I love you all dearly, but it is my hope that I will not be writing about those players or classes.)
The gymnastics team had a hard-fought loss to No. 1 Oklahoma on Friday night. Its next reward is the SEC Championships, where two of the Top 5 teams in the nation await Duckworth’s crew.
The rotation schedule and seedings were released yesterday. For ‘Bama it could have been worse: Alabama doesn’t end with its most uncertain routine, but it doesn’t end with its strongest either.