If you have access to Alabama football practice, or if you take advantage of the chance to see those practices on “Training Days,” you will quickly pick up on Nick Saban’s favorite practice phrase.
“Do it again.”
“Do it again.”
“Do it again.”
The repetition is not eternal but can seem like it. The end comes with kickoff. But until kickoff arrives, Saban, a perfectionist, believes in doing a thing until it becomes second nature. The characteristic is so ingrained in Saban that one wonders if, at this point, he isn’t doing the same thing to his own fan base as they await, not too patiently in some cases, for an announcement on the starting quarterback.
Monday was the same drill that Saban has been running for years, again and again. Anticipation rises at various media opportunities — SEC Media Days, the opening of practice, the first scrimmage, the arrival of game week. Definitive answers are not forthcoming.
Subliminally or overtly, the message from the head coach remains the same: Do It Again.
Wednesday is Saban’s final press conference before the season opener. Thursday is his listener-participation format radio show, on which Saban does sometimes break news. Saturday morning is spent with the media members involved in the telecast of the evening game, and whether Saban tips his hand or not, there will be an outpouring of winks, nods and inside sources looking to be two minutes ahead of the next outlet.
No one should blame fans for being acutely interested in whether Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa starts against Louisville. That fan interest drives the media bus. This is college football history unfolding.
Quarterback controversies are nothing new. Alabama has had such controversies for decades. So have other programs. There have even been a fair amount of Established Starter vs. New Hotshot battles over the years. But when has there ever been a starter so established that he has started two consecutive national championship games in a two-year career vying against a hotshot so hot that he not only threw the game-winning pass for a national title, but is the betting favorite to win the Heisman Trophy? Never.
Saban has his reasons for not making a public announcement. He says there has been no decision, which sounds incongruous, but is a clear “do it again” answer. The scales have to be tilting in one direction or another at this point. But nothing is over, to paraphrase John Belushi, until Saban says it is.
The safest hedge, and it’s one where I find myself hiding along with the other rabbits from time to time, is that both quarterbacks will play. Taking the first snap of the first offensive possession makes someone the “starter,” the theory goes, but that’s not more valuable than the fifth snap of the second quarter, is it?
Saban, however, didn’t respond to a question (or, worse, an “assumption”) that both quarterbacks would play when that was floated in his Monday press conference. The change in his inflection may have been irritation at any “assuming,” but it was notable. Perhaps things won’t be done by committee. Perhaps Louisville’s offense and Alabama’s inexperienced defense mean that there’s a football game to be won, which is more important than a lab experiment in “quarterback playing time” being conducted.
So the answer is likely to be “do it again,” for a few more days.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.