Alabama didn’t need a hero at quarterback in 2014, it didn’t need one in 2015 and it sure doesn’t need one now.
Nick Saban could throw any of his three primary quarterbacks under center and the Crimson Tide could probably still make the College Football Playoff, just as they did with Blake Sims and Jake Coker. Shoot, pull Joe Namath off his couch and ‘Bama would still probably be bowl eligible.
But there was something different about the passers in Saturday’s 52-6 win over USC in Arlington, Texas: potential.
True freshman Jalen Hurts became the first player since 1996 to record multiple passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns against the Trojans. He was certainly raw (fumbled the ball away on first play, threw an ugly interception into double coverage), but his ability to stretch the field with his legs and complete passes downfield immediately put him on the national radar.
Likewise, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett struggled plenty in the first quarter before showing off his cannon arm in the second half. Some of his work came against a clearly defeated Southern Cal defense, but he showed why some consider the 5-star Los Angeles native Saban’s best quarterback recruit, ever.
Hurts and Barnett play different styles of football, but either one could eventually be Alabama’s most talented player; a title no passer has ever held during Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa.
There will be bumps in the coming weeks, and a Sept. 17 game at Ole Miss appears especially daunting (not to mention trips to Knoxville and Baton Rouge).
And remember that Saturday’s game was a limited sample of what fans might be able to expect from the quarterbacks in 2016. Hurts doesn’t have an official start and has only thrown 11 career passes. Barnett has a live arm but looked a little lost against USC’s No. 1 defense. They’ve still barely played any Division I football.
This will probably not be the year that either of those guys enters the Heisman Trophy race or needs to win games by themselves. But, for the first time since AJ McCarron left town, Crimson Tide fans can expect stability next season and beyond.
Following the final whistle Saturday, Saban implied the quarterback competition is still on.
And why not? Instead of cycling through game managers and one-and-done players with low ceilings, he might just be picking between superstars.