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2023 Alabama Fall Football Preview: Who will take the reins at quarterback?

The Heisman winner is gone. We know the candidates, but can one of them step up and lead the Tide back to the playoff?

Auburn v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If there is one position preview that we probably didn’t need to write, it’s this one. Any moderately knowledgeable Alabama fan is keenly aware of the fact that Bryce Young was drafted first overall in April, leaving behind a massive void at a quarterback position that has produced elite play for the past five seasons. This season’s competition harkens back to 2016 when true freshman Jalen Hurts managed to beat out a five star and a couple of high four star passers to win the job. That year Alabama made it all the way to the national title game and lost a heartbreaker. Hurts won the SEC Offensive Player of the Year despite pedestrian passing stats, thanks to his 954 yards and 13 touchdowns as a runner.

Now another Jalen from Texas is leading the pack, and he’s arguably a more explosive runner than Hurts. Will he hang onto the job or will someone else step up? And, can any of them lead the Tide back to glory? A long offseason of consternation will finally come to an end in less than a week.

The Departed

NFL: Preseason-Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Young came to Alabama as the top overall prospect in the 2020 class, and the highest rated commitment for Alabama in the era of recruiting services. While his efficiency stats didn’t quite match those of his two immediate predecessors, he impressed enough to become Alabama’s first-ever Heisman QB, torch eventual national champion Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, and then become the only Alabama player since the merger to hear his name called first in the NFL Draft. Other than that, he really didn’t do much.

First Man Up

#4 Jalen Milroe - RS So.

NCAA Football: Alabama Spring Game Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

Milroe was a recruiting coup in the 2021 class, as Nick Saban and company managed to flip him from the in state Texas Longhorns, who he will likely face as a starting QB in week two of this season. He was raw coming out of high school, but Milroe’s physical tools are striking. No one questions his arm strength, and he will often be the best athlete on the field any time he plays. Like any QB, the question will be how well he processes what he sees and gets the ball out on time with accuracy. We know what he can do when he pulls it down, but that can’t be the whole offense.

In any case, mixed in with very notable mistakes and errant passes, there most certainly have been highlights in his limited playing time thus far.

Jalen will get the first crack against Middle Tennessee, and considering the quality of the opposition it seems unlikely that he won’t be starting when Texas rolls into town.

Returning Contender

#15 Ty Simpson - RS Fr.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Kansas State at Alabama Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on who you listen to, you may believe that Saban has been looking for former five-star Simpson to win the team over and take the job. On some level, it would make sense. Ty was the highest rated recruit of the bunch and is a college coach’s kid. In this modern era, those types of recruits are usually ready to go by year two if not as soon as they arrive on campus. Needless to say, there was no competition in 2022 with the Heisman winner returning, but many thought that Simpson would be the guy this season.

And maybe he will be.

Simpson throws an accurate ball and seems to have strong pocket presence based on his very sparse playing time. He has completed four of his five college passes, all in mop-up duty. While nowhere near the athlete that Milroe is, Simpson is a capable runner in his own right. Unless Milroe sets the world ablaze, he will get his shot to compete in the games.

The Newcomers

#8 Tyler Buchner - RS So.

Syndication: Notre Dame Insider Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

Alabama fans didn’t really hit the panic button over the quarterback position until news broke that Tyler Buchner, who had decided to leave Notre Dame after seeing his starting job taken by Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman, was headed to Tuscaloosa. More than a few folks out there jumped to conclusions, assuming Buchner was brought in by OC Tommy Rees to be the starter. Saban said at the time, as he always does, that Tyler would simply be given an opportunity and that is exactly what has happened.

Buchner has a similar skill set to Simpson, though Ty’s tools are a bit stronger across the board. Buchner does have real game experience and some real highlights, though he has been injury plagued and something of an enigma when healthy. His most recent start came in the Gator Bowl against South Carolina and was a microcosm of his college career, as he accounted for five touchdowns but threw three interceptions. Tyler will need to prove that he can take care of the ball if he wants Saban to consider him for the job.

#12 Dylan Lonergan - Fr.

NCAA Football: Alabama Spring Game Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama signed two four-star passers in the 2023 class, and Lonergan was actually the lower rated of the two. It was clear from the jump that he was ahead of the game mentally, however, and impressed Alabama fans at the spring game. There have been reports out of camp that the 6’2”, 212 pounder has looked like a legitimate contender for the backup job, if not the starting job, this fall. Being just a freshman with two upperclassmen plus Simpson ahead of him, it seems unlikely that we will see Dylan on the field much this season but stranger things have happened.

#10 Eli Holstein - Fr.

NCAA Football: Alabama Spring Game Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

If this were a competition for who could throw the ball the hardest, Holstein would likely win hands down. Eli is huge, standing 6’4” and listed at 237 lb. This gives him the ability to stand tall in the pocket, shake off defenders and push the ball down the field. Back before spring practice, he was a player that many fans were excited to see. We really haven’t heard much about him in the fall, however, so a redshirt year is likely in the offing.