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Nick Saban: Season opener ‘is not the end’ of Alabama QB competition

Following the departure of Bryce Young, the Crimson Tide are still looking for a starter at quarterback. And the first game is “just the beginning,” according to the Alabama head coach.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Alabama Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Young isn’t walking through the doors of the Mal M. Moore Athletic facility for practice any more.

The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner is now the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers and the Alabama Crimson Tide remain in the midst of the competition to replace Young with only 16 days until the highly-anticipated non-conference rematch with the Texas Longhorns in Tuscaloosa.

With coaches typically preferring to name a starter at the sport’s most important position heading into game week, Alabama head coach Nick Saban sounded nowhere close to settling on a starter in the competition between redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe, redshirt sophomore Tyler Buchner, and redshirt freshman Ty Simpson.

“Like I said in here before, I told the quarterbacks, I said, ‘Quit looking around for me to make a decision about who’s going to play. How about you play and good enough that I don’t have a choice? That’s what you can control. That’s what you can do,’ and somebody needs to do that. And it’s sort of taking shape to some degree, but somebody’s got to do it,” Saban said Wednesday.

In a little more than a week, a quarterback will take the field with the Alabama first team at Bryant-Denny Stadium against Middle Tennessee State, but Saban views that merely as the start of the battle to hold onto the job.

“Where you all think that whoever we name is a starter for the first game, that’s like the end of it. It’s not the end of it. It’s just the beginning. What if a guy doesn’t play good? He’s not entitled to keep playing. And the guy that doesn’t play has got every opportunity to practice and be more consistent and win the team over so that when he gets an opportunity to play, he plays really well. I mean, we have changed quarterbacks around here a few times during the season. So I know you guys are looking for an end, but it’s not even going to be the end in the first game.”

So the starter against Middle Tennessee State may not be the starter against Texas and the starter against the Longhorns may not finish the game behind center. It’s a relatively unusual situation for a Crimson Tide program built on stability, especially at quarterback, where Young took over from Mac Jones, who took over from Tua Tagavoiloa, who displaced Jalen Hurts.

Even Jones, lightly recruited by Alabama standards as a consensus three-star prospect, had the experience of a 141 passing attempts in 2019 before replacing Tagavoiloa, winning a competition against Young decided by current Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian.

Arguably, then, the Crimson Tide quarterback situation is at its lowest ebb since 2016, when Hurts took over the starting role as a true freshman. But at least Hurts turned an efficient season, hardly a guarantee from the current group.

Milroe is a dynamic athlete but unproven passer who threw interceptions on 5.7 percent of his attempts last season. Buchner is the Notre Dame transfer with experience under new Alabama offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, but was inefficient for the Fighting Irish, including an interception rate higher than Milroe’s. Simpson is a former top-30 national recruit, but only attempted five passes last season.

Last year, it took some late-game magic from Young for Alabama to beat Texas in Austin. This year, that type of magic might be in short supply for the Crimson Tide at the quarterback position.