How Nick Saban has evolved in naming Alabama football's quarterback leading up to Bryce Young | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

There isn’t likely to be any “official” proclamation of Alabama football’s starting quarterback for the season opener against Miami, at least not in the way that many NFL teams, or the Crimson Tide’s division rival, Texas A&M, did last week with freshman Haynes King getting the nod.

Alabama has been through that before, roughly up until 2015 or so. Nick Saban loves competition at every position, so much so that he wouldn’t even specifically name A.J. McCarron as the 2013 starter even though McCarron had two national championship rings. It was a matter of principle, not a cloud of mystery, but Saban stuck to it.

Then, in 2016, things were truly unsettled. That seems long ago now, or part of an alternate timeline like the current Justice League or Spider-Man film franchises. But Alabama opened that season in Jerry World, Texas, with Blake Barnett as the starter, which could lead to several spider-holes.

Jalen Hurts was clearly the better performer and took the job the next week, possibly because Saban simply didn’t want a true freshman taking the first snap of the season. It also made Barnett the first starter in college football history to lose his job after a 52-6 win over a traditional power like Southern Cal. Barnett, perhaps understandably, didn’t handle it well and transferred, eventually closing his complicated career at South Florida.

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That has been the end of the preseason controversy, except in 2018 when Saban had to perform the delicate balancing act of keeping both Hurts and rising sensation Tua Tagovailoa on the roster. He did so through diplomacy, the different NCAA transfer rules just three years ago, and, judging from the way Hurts continues to embrace his Alabama roots, his sentimental attachment to UA. This is meant as no slight to Oklahoma, where he had a mutually-beneficial 2019 season with the Sooners.

Tagovailoa was obvious in 2019, and if there was any hint that Mac Jones might not start in 2020, that was wiped out when coronavirus protocols kept Bryce Young from having a spring practice, to say nothing of the fact that Jones had important experience against Auburn and Michigan. 

This preseason has been much of the same. Saban hasn’t made a big deal out of it, but Young’s name will be atop the depth chart released on Monday. He was the backup last season. Almost every question that has been asked since spring practice started last March has received an answer in which Young is framed as the No. 1 quarterback. Every scrimmage report from Saban has contained a variation of “Bryce is fine and the players around him need to do better.” Maybe that’s a confidence booster shot, maybe a message to those others.

There does seem to have been an interesting division of practice reps between Paul Tyson and Jalen Milroe, but that’s a tough question to ask since Saban might catch a whiff of “when you get a big lead against Miami, who do you put in?” – and that might get an answer you would rather not have. 

Saban’s greatest trait has been his ability to adjust. There was a time when “naming” a starting quarterback seemed important. Now, the issue is watching how that quarterback performs. Young will be getting tremendous scrutiny for a variety of reasons. He doesn’t need a coronation ceremony on top of that.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or viaTwitter @cecilhurt