Anytime you replace one of your all-time leading passers you have a major question mark heading into the next season. Double that for a guy that led his team to a career 24-3 record, including a 14-0 record and BCS championship in 2009. That’s the case for Alabama heading into 2011.
Greg McElroy was never accused of being the most athletic quarterback in the league, but history will record him as one of the top quarterbacks ever to wear the crimson and white. I say that not as a huge McElroy fan, but the statistics speak for themselves. Let this sink in for a minute:
* A 24-3 record as a starter – an incredible .880 winning percentage (third best in Bama history).
* The Alabama record holder for passing yards in a season (2,987) and fourth best in career passing yards (5,691).>
* Second all-time with 40 career touchdown passes and owns the single season mark of 20 (2010).
* Only 10 career interceptions our of 658 career passing attempts.
* A career pass completion percentage of 66.3%. Of course that means he holds the single season mark of 70.9% (2010) and would have set the season record in 2009 save for a bunch of dropped passes.
Not bad for a guy labeled as a “game manager.”
As I said above, history will be kind to McElroy. These results will look sweeter and sweeter as time passes.
But despite the statistics, there was a bit of McElroy fatigue as his career wound to a close. Whatever the reason for that fatigue, Tide fans have soothed themselves with the reminder that higher rated, more athletic quarterbacks were on the roster and ready for their shot in 2011.
So this year we turn our attention to redshirt sophomore AJ McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. Yes, they are highly touted and, yes, they are better athletes, but they are also highly inexperienced. And they are locked in a heated battle for the starting nod. If the battle is really as contested as has been reported, the battle may not be settled until well into the season. Any slip by the named starter in the first couple of games means the backup may be given a chance.
The question really isn’t “who will be the quarterback?” – it will be McCarron or Sims. The real question is “how will our young quarterback play?”
So how will our new quarterback play? I think whoever it is will play well enough for us to have a chance. He’ll have the benefit of a solid offensive line that returns four starters, including All-American candidate Barrett Jones, and he’ll have the luxury of turning to hand the ball to Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. He’ll also have the benefit of a rock solid Saban defense, that returns 10 starters, to bail him out of most of the trouble he creates. While we’ve grown somewhat tired of the “game manager” label assigned to our last couple of quarterbacks, the reality is we only need a game manager this year. I expect that Richardson, Lacy and Jalston Folwer will pound the rock hard during September and October, giving some time for the QB battle to cool and for a regular starter to emerge and settle into the position. Hopefully, this will provide a good, solid footing for our QB to play well in November.
Last year, McElroy threw for an Alabama season record of 2,987 yards and an Alabama record 20 touchdown passes – all while only tossing five interceptions. This year, I expect the combined McCarron/Sims numbers to be good, but not near the all-time marks set by McElroy. I would expect around 2,500 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. I think if our running backs, namely Richardson, have the kind of year I expect, these QB numbers should be good enough. If the numbers TD-to-inception ratio gets any closer, I think it could spell trouble, possibly even too much trouble for our defense.
On a side note, if either McCarron or Sims settles into the role as starter early on, they have the possibility of starting for a long, long time. If they put up typical Saban QB numbers over that period, they would likely smash all of the Bama passing records and would have a chance to become Alabama’s first ever 10,000 yard passer.