For a second straight media opportunity this week, first on an SEC teleconference Monday and then in his pro-am appearances at the Regions Tradition golf event on Wednesday in Birmingham, Nick Saban was able to avoid any quarterback questions. That’s partly because the media that covers Saban on a daily basis pretty well exhausted the topic after A-Day. What has happened since, other than final exams? So how could the answer be any different?
That doesn’t mean the questions about Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa are going to go away between now and September. Alabama quarterback debates are America’s renewable resource, far surpassing wind turbines and wood pellets. Without checking back into European history, I feel certain that the Hundred Years’ War was fought over who should start at quarterback for Alabama when football was eventually invented.
The topic came up again as CBS Sports published a one-on-one interview they did earlier this week, with reporter Dennis Dodd. There’s no issue with the question, a perfectly legitimate one especially for a reporter getting their first face-time (or phone-time) with Saban in weeks. Dodd also got a good answer and, as far as I know, received no shrapnel wounds from a Saban explosion.
This was Saban’s reply:
“I’ve never said anything about it being a quarterback battle (and) I’m not going to say anything about it being a quarterback battle now. We have a quarterback who played really well and was SEC Player of the Year last year. I’m not saying he can’t be beat out. I’m not saying the players here (don’t) have an opportunity to beat him out. But that’s the case at every position.”
For those that follow Saban regularly, that’s a fairly standard answer confirming Hurts will be the starter. But for the opposition party, those who back Tagovailoa as a sooner-rather-than-later alternative, that single “but” serves to keep hope alive. That goes for click-baiters, too, as at least one college football blog went with “Nick Saban on Jalen Hurts: ‘I’m not saying he can’t be beat out’” as their teaser.
That sounds far more drastic than what Saban invariably means when he refuses to name starters in May, regardless of the position, regardless of how dominant a player one might be. The Alabama coach wouldn’t name Julio Jones as a starting wide receiver three months before the season, or Ryan Kelly as a starting center, or C.J. Mosley as a starting linebacker. That’s not because those weren’t great, dominant college football players. They were. But what good would it do to tell the backup that he had no chance to start before summer workouts even begin? Given the choice between complacency and competition, Saban is going to choose competition every time.
Perhaps it’s best just to accept Alabama quarterback debate as a rite of spring that will renew itself as it has for 50 years, until another Joe Namath comes along. (At this point, I am not convinced that even Broadway Joe reincarnated wouldn’t have his critics.) The discussion, frankly, makes for livelier fodder than early-signing period questions, the dull but dominant topic in recent weeks. Admittedly, Saban is the best person to ask such questions because he gives genuine thought to broader college football issues.
The logical answer about quarterbacks, as Saban knows, is to wait and see. The chances of that happening were probably lower than all five SEC coaches in attendance at the Regions sinking holes-in-one during their rounds.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.