The SEC has an 'Alabama problem' that stretches beyond Nick Saban | Toppmeyer

Blake Toppmeyer

Nick Saban had a 354-pound man to thank for his first undefeated season at Alabama.

Terrence Cody blocked two field goals in Alabama’s 12-10 victory over Tennessee in October 2009 during a season that culminated with the Crimson Tide beating Texas in the BCS National Championship.

That triumph over the Vols came during a stretch of four SEC victories in which the Tide scored 24 points or fewer each game.

Alabama boasted one of the nation’s best defenses and the SEC's top running back, Mark Ingram, that year. Its quarterback, Greg McElroy, limited mistakes but ranked in the middle of the SEC pack in terms of production.

That became Saban’s winning formula throughout his early reign atop the SEC at Alabama: Win with defense, a bruising running game and a quarterback who’s better than a game manager but isn’t a top-tier NFL talent.

No more.

Within the past few years, Alabama has gone from being Running Back U, Linebacker U and Defensive Line U to being Everything U. That includes quarterbacks.

The SEC’s “Alabama problem” isn’t just that Saban hasn’t retired. It’s that he’s enhanced his repertoire.

A look at this year’s NFL Draft projections proves that. Mac Jones could go as high as No. 3 overall to the San Francisco 49ers.

A-DAY:The main thing Alabama football is looking for at spring game

ROLL ON:Will 2021 be a transition year for Alabama football? Will it matter?

OPINION:SEC should adapt its transfer bylaws and embrace athlete free agency. Here's why.

That would mark two years in a row that Alabama has produced a first-round quarterback. Tua Tagovailoa went No. 5 overall last year to the Miami Dolphins. And Jalen Hurts was selected in the second round by the Philadelphia Eagles. Hurts started his career at Alabama before finishing at Oklahoma after surrendering the starting job to Tagovailoa.

Alabama has a history of producing talented NFL quarterbacks, of course. Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Ken Stabler highlight the list. But it had been exactly that – history.

Before Tagovailoa’s first-round selection last year, Alabama hadn’t had a quarterback drafted in the first round since the Jets picked Richard Todd with the No. 6 overall pick in 1976.

Previously during the Saban era, McElroy became a seventh-round pick and A.J. McCarron was a fifth-round pick. Tagovailoa already has more NFL completions than McElroy and McCarron combined.

Alabama’s emergence as a destination for top-end quarterbacks appears to have staying power. Bryce Young grabbed the baton from Jones.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (9) throws a pass against Arkansas at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Young, a five-star recruit, ranked as the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite in the 2020 signing class.

By all accounts, Young is poised for his star turn.

“He’s done great,” Saban said after a closed scrimmage last week. “He knows the playbook really, really well. I told him one of the things that he has to work on is having a presence on the field, being the man, so to speak, taking charge, being in command, and I think that he’s done better and better at that.”

More five-star quarterback talent is on the way. Ty Simpson of Westview High School in Martin, Tennessee, committed to Alabama in February over fellow finalists Clemson, Tennessee and Ole Miss.

These quarterbacks aren’t clones, either.

Hurts was the first elite running threat among quarterbacks during the Saban era. He threatened defenses with his ability to scramble or keep the ball on a zone read.

Tagovailoa possessed above-average mobility but was more of a pocket passer who thrived with his vision, quality deep ball and knack for delivering clutch plays.

Jones showed good instincts and exceptional accuracy, timing and ball placement.

Tagovailoa broke Alabama’s single-season record with 3,966 passing yards in 2018 – a record that stood for all of two years until Jones threw for 4,500 yards last season.

Compare that to Saban’s first undefeated season, when McElroy threw for 2,508 yards.

Quarterback production surged throughout the SEC last year, but Alabama’s climb is occurring at a rate that should alarm the rest of the SEC.

Saban was tough enough to beat when he needed the occasional blocked field goal to prevail. With first-round NFL Draft-caliber quarterbacks at his disposal, it’s almost unfair.

Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.