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When you’re Alabama, you have the option of replacing your four-star quarterback for a five-star quarterback. While the decision on who will be the 2018 starting quarterback looms over next season, anyone in Tuscaloosa can tell you it’s a good problem to have.
Nick Saban remained noncommittal at his final national championship press conference on whether Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts would start next season.
Look, we have two good quarterbacks on our team, no doubt. Both of them made a great contribution to the success of the team this year. I think that we haven’t really made a decision about that. I don’t think it’s imperative that we make one right now. We’ve got two fine young men who really respect each other and have worked hard to help each other all year long. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue to do that in the future.
Saban’s actions tell fans a different story. When the game mattered the most, Saban inserted his true freshman signal caller into the game for a spark. If Saban has enough confidence in Tagovailoa to win a national title, chances are he will trust him to be the 2018 starter. There were also rumblings in Tuscaloosa last summer that Tagovailoa was playing so well he was challenging Hurts for the starting gig heading into the 2017 season.
Tagovailoa played in seven games prior to the title game, but most of these were limited reps. If Tagovailoa wins the starting job, it puts Hurts in an interesting predicament. Hurts will be entering his junior season, one of the most important years of his college career from an NFL evaluation standpoint. Unless he transfers to a junior college or lower division school, Hurts would have to sit out an entire season before playing for another team.
Before fans write off Hurts, just remember he is the same young quarterback we were enamored with in his 2016 debut against USC. For the first time in recent memory, Saban was going to have a dual-threat quarterback. It is hard to pinpoint what has happened since then, but there remains serious questions about Hurts ability to move the ball downfield. Hurts managed just three passes for 21 yards in the first half against Georgia.
It remains to be seen whether Hurts would want to transfer if he loses the starting position, but Hurts could dedicate himself to trying to win back the job. Hurts handled being benched better than anyone could be expected to, looking genuinely happy his team had won a national title despite Alabama accomplishing it with a different quarterback.
Before we’re handing out the 2018 Heisman to Tagovailoa, we would be wise to consider what we have seen with Hurts. It is difficult to enjoy sustained success as an SEC quarterback when you are consistently facing some of the best defenses in the country. Defenses will still have limited tape on Tagovailoa even after the title game, but it will get more difficult as the season progresses.
What is clear is Tagovailoa jump started the Alabama offense, and was the key factor in allowing the Crimson Tide to come back to win the title. Tagovailoa went 14-of-24 for 166 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in the second half against Georgia.
Saban explained after the game that he felt the offense needed what Tagovailoa could provide when he decided to move away from Hurts at halftime.
No disrespect to Jalen, but the real thought was they came into the game thinking we were going to run the ball and be able to run quarterback runs, which we made a couple of explosive plays on. But with the absence of a passing game and being able to make explosive plays and being able to convert on third down, I just didn’t feel we could run the ball well enough, and I thought Tua would give us a better chance and a spark, which he certainly did.
One thing is for sure, spring ball in Alabama will be interesting as Tagovailoa’s play also sparked a quarterback controversy.