Nick Saban’s first two title teams at Alabama had at least one thing in common: both had brand-new starting quarterbacks. Greg McElroy’s first year as a starter was in 2009 and AJ McCarron took over for him in 2011.
Conventional wisdom would say that teams with experienced quarterbacks would have an advantage, but lately that hasn’t been the case. Auburn’s 2010 team was also led by a first-time starter (Cam Newton) and last year’s winner, Florida State, featured a brand-new signal caller (Jameis Winston).
So normally, the departure of a three-year starter and Heisman finalist would dampen expectations a bit, but that’s not the case for Alabama this year. The SEC media is again predicting another SEC championship game appearance by the Tide and many of our faithful are expecting Nick Saban to bring home the new trophy.
But does this make sense?
“Well I think it is a little bit unrealistic because basically what you’re talking about is two guys that are untested,” said Saban who won national titles with first year quarterbacks in 2009 (Greg McElroy) and 2011 (AJ McCarron). “And when you have an untested player at that position, you can be pleasantly surprised with the way they develop and how they do and how the team sorta rallies around them and the impact of their leadership, decision-making, those things are critical at the quarterback position.”
Saban knows it can go the opposite direction with a new passer.
“They can also go to where they turn the ball over and do some things that make it hard to overcome,” Saban said on ESPN Radio. “Because quarterback is such a critical position to me. Football is a great team game, but then there’s the quarterback. And most successful teams have a guy that, at least in their system, is functionally successful for the other players on the team. And in our case, because we have good skill guys, it’s important that our guy can distribute the ball to those guys and make those guys effective players for us.”
In McElroy and McCarron, we had quarterbacks who did what was necessary to win: decent decision-making, good leadership, limited turnovers and good ball distribution. They also had great offensive lines and very talented skill players.
Oh, and one other thing: the 2009 and 2011 teams had nasty defenses. Except on rare occasions, McElroy and McCarron weren’t asked to go out and win games. In most cases, the defense had locked down the other team and the offense was free to execute its game plan without encumbrance.
Who will be the starter this year? At this point, who knows? Most folks would bet on Jacob Coker. But regardless of who the starter is, the factors mentioned here will determine how successful the season will be. The game plans, at least early on, won’t be for Coker or Blake Sims to win games by themselves. The plan will be to run the ball, limit turnovers and play lights out on defense.