The biggest question on College Football handicappers minds surrounds the Alabama football team, wondering who replaces starting quarterback Blake Sims. Does Nick Saban have an answer?
Big Shoes To Fill
Indeed, whomever wins the job will have a lot to live up to. A.J. McCarron was one of the winningest quarterbacks in NCAA history and a three-year starter from 2011-13. The Tide weren't sure who was going to replace McCarron at this time last year after he graduated (now a backup for the Bengals). Most thought it would be Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, who formerly was the backup to Jameis Winston in Tallahassee.
As early as last season's opener against West Virginia it still didn't appear that the Tide settled on a full-time guy and that Coker might split reps with senior Blake Sims. That never materialized as Sims played wire-to-wire in the win over the Mountaineers, throwing for 250 yards and running for 42 more in 33-23 victory. Sims never lost a handle on the job, completing 64.5 percent of his passes for 3,487 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in one of the greatest seasons by a Tide QB in school history -- maybe the best. He led Alabama to the College Football Playoff, where the Crimson Tide were upset by Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Sims threw for 237 yards and two scores but he did have three interceptions. His 118.1 rating was his third-lowest of the season. It was hardly his fault that Alabama lost.
Coker now is the clear guy to beat -- at least among players currently in Tuscaloosa. However, none of the competitors exactly stood out during Alabama's A-Day spring game. For what it's worth, the White team beat the Crimson 27-14. Coker, a senior, and junior Alec Morris worked with the first-team offense on the White. Redshirt freshman David Cornwell, true freshman Blake Barnett and sophomore Cooper Bateman were on the Crimson. The quarterbacks finished a combined 46-for-83 with three touchdowns, six interceptions and one lost fumble.
Coker completed 14-for-28 for 183 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions, but he was just 4-for-12 with an interception during the second half. That pick was returned 51 yards for a touchdown by safety Maurice Smith. Many believe Cornwell is Coker's top competition and Cornwell was s 12-for-24 for 110 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Morris was 7-for-11 for 60 yards, Bateman 7-for-11 for 48 yards with a pick, and Barnett 6-for-9 for 25 yards, a touchdowns and two picks.
According to reports, Cornwell appeared to pass Morris and Bateman toward the end of the spring and even took some first-team reps during practices. It's notable that he threw the most passes for the Crimson squad during the spring game.
"There can be no great conclusions drawn from any of what happened other than we're pleased with what we saw in some of the guys. We'll certainly take that into fall camp and this summer and try to build on it," Saban said to the media afterward.
Then there's the possible wild card: Ohio State senior Braxton Miller, a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. The rumors won't die that Miller might consider transferring to Alabama instead of continuing the battle with Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett for the Buckeyes' starting job. Miller, who is coming off a second serious shoulder surgery and still can't full-out throw yet, would be eligible to play right away. Miller has made several visits to the state to rehab his shoulder and meet with Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery. While in Alabama, Miller visited with close friend and Tide linebacker Trey DePriest. They talk often, but not about transferring, says DePriest.
Saban can't address another team's player but said this on the general topic of adding a graduate transfer: "If there was somebody out there that I thought could help our team, we have a spot or two available that we could probably."
If Miller wants to come, it's a no-brainer for Alabama to add him. How great would it be to see the Tide and Buckeyes then face off in the College Football Playoff again? Alabama is +170 to make the playoff on NCAA football odds and -210 not to. The Tide are +800 second favorites to the Buckeyes to win the national title and +300 favorites to win the SEC.
If preparing Week 1 College Football Picks, consider that Alabama opens the season against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas, as a 12.5-point favorite at 5Dimes.