Does Alabama Continue the Rookie QB to National Championship Streak?
By Larry Burton
You don’t win a national championship with a rookie quarterback. That’s an age old truism when it comes to college football.
Just don’t try and sell that to Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide and its fans.
Greg McElroy, big question mark as he replaced Alabama’s all time leader in most quarterback records, John Parker Wilson. But he took the job like a seasoned pro and led Alabama to a national championship in his rookie season.
Then enter AJ McCarron who football pundits said would be an Alabama step down from McElroy. Instead he became a back to back national championship winning quarterback.
Forget the so called battle for the starting quarterback job and enter Jacob Coker era for at least one season. You can already hear some of the media talking heads wonder how Alabama will fare with a second string quarterback from another school, while others think this is just the man to lead Alabama back to the championship game.
If you aren’t already in the know, he was second string to be factual, but to the man who was considered to be the absolute best quarterback in all of college football last season, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Who by the way was also a rookie quarterback. So while he may not have been able to beat out the number one quarterback in the country, no one can say for sure right now if there was anyone else short of Johnny Manziel that could have kept Coker on the bench.
Here’s what is known. Saban can and does win with rookie quarterbacks who have never started a season as a number one quarterback.
Simple. Great coaching, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the not only that rookie quarterback, but the whole team, is how Saban pulls this off.
It also helps to have big agile offensive linemen, one of nation’s deepest pools of running backs and a stable of great receivers surrounding the rookie quarterback. Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron both had that and so does Coker.
To be exact, at least by most trained eyes, Coker will have a deeper pool of running backs and a much more accomplished and fleet footed stable of receivers than either McElroy and McCarron ever had when they started their turn and head signal caller. The only question is, how good will this offensive line be? The talent is there and most of the staff coaching them feel they have the ability to be close to being on par with the last championship team quite quickly.
The other reason this rookie could have the same success as his predecessors is coaching. In the past, Saban has relied on the great running backs along with a conservative passing approach to help ease the new quarterback into his role. Perhaps that is the biggest reason that McElroy and McCarron both were stuck with the dreaded “Game Manager” label.
Another reason this quarterback could blossom to the same heights is Lane Kiffin. While some Alabama fans may still hold their nose at the thought of Lane Kiffin being on the staff, there is no denying that he can and does get the most from his quarterbacks. With that now being one of his primary roles while being relieved of all the other duties he may not have been the best suited for, Kiffin may shine as he did the last time he was given the role of offensive coordinator and quarterback guru.
But what about the defense? Didn’t McElroy and McCarron also inherit a team with a national leading defense? And didn’t this defense lose a ton of great talent?
Yes McElroy and McCarron did inherit a great defense, but sportswriters are losing count on how many times they’ve written off the Alabama defense as a national leader due to losses only to have them wind up as a national leader in defensive stats yet again. Wasn’t Rolando McClain irreplaceable? Wasn’t Dont’a Hightower? Now it’s CJ Mosely? While each was a great team leader on defense, someone always rises to the top to and takes on that role at Alabama and just looking over the list and quality that Kirby Smart has at his disposal, it’s not hard to see that this next big linebacker could not only be as good, but better. Will it Reggie Ragland? Will Robert Foster finally cement his permanent position there? Will Ryan Anderson stay out of the dog house and seize the moment? And don’t forget about the real wildcard on the team, in fact the man who is known as the team’s wild man, Dillon Lee. But mostly don’t forget about Trey DePriest, who some on the staff are saying is shedding his quiet side to become the leader they hoped he would be when they brought him to Tuscaloosa.
And Alabama fans and staff aren’t worried about the nose guard and defensive ends either. Talent is in place for all that too.
If Crimson Tide fans do want to worry about something, then the defensive backfield is the place. Gone are Vinnie Sunseri, Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, Deion Belue and John Fulton.
But they do return Landon Collins who proved he could not only take Suneri’s job at safety, but perhaps do it better. Geno Smith has shown he could be ready to nail down the other safety slot and Bradley Sylve, who could be one of the fastest men on the team, could turn into a great closing corner back and he comes back with some valuable experience and playing time under his belt. Cyrus Jones, who may be the other corner, is like Collins, Smith and Sylve, a junior and gives Alabama at least a chance to return this same lineup for two years in a row. The only senior with a starting role in the defensive backfield may be Jarrick Williams at Star.
A fact that may bother Alabama fans is that this group of D backs won’t have to work very hard to at least do as well as last year’s unit. They could easily surpass the 2013 squad and could rival the 2012 national championship squad’s production as it proved to be the weak link on the team at times.
Combine all this with a soft opening schedule to build confidence and cohesiveness during the first third of the season before going to Ole Miss for what may possibly be the first test against SEC West competition. But in reality, only LSU and Auburn should provide Alabama with a real contest and a legitimate shot at an upset. It could well be that Alabama will be favored in all of their regular season games this season and there’s no reason to believe that that they won’t have a legitimate shot to continue the rookie quarterback / national championship streak.