Alabama will open its football fall camp a little more than a month from now and all eyes are going to be focused on one thing: Who will be the Tide's starting quarterback? I can't answer that but give some ideas how the team could respond.
Sims Very Good In 2014
I think it's fair to say that Alabama's quarterback battle is the second most-anticipated in the nation behind that incredible three-headed battle going on at reigning national champion Ohio State between Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller.
Of course Jones helped lead the Buckeyes to an upset of top-seeded Alabama in the Sugar Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal game this past season, 42-35, in just his second career start. That was the final collegiate game for Alabama starting quarterback Blake Sims. He had one of the finest years in school history, completing 252-for-391 (64.5 percent) for 3,487 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He did struggle a bit against the Buckeyes, however. Sims was 22-for-36 for 237 yards with two touchdowns but also three interceptions. His 118.1 rating was his third-lowest of the season. But he doesn't deserve the blame for the loss -- the Tide defense does. If Alabama scores 35 points, it's going to win more than 95 percent of the time.
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Coker vs. Cornwell?
So who will replace Sims? Alabama reportedly was interested in former Notre Dame starting QB Everett Golson, but SEC rules made it tough for Golson to transfer to any school in that conference so he decided on Florida State of the ACC. You still hear rumors that Ohio State's Miller might transfer, and he won't be as hampered by SEC rules because Miller never was kicked off his team like Golson was. But it's already late June so apparently Miller will be staying in Columbus.
So that leaves the five guys currently on the roster: Jake Coker, David Cornwell, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman or Blake Barnett. Coker is a senior transfer from Florida State, where he backed up 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston. Many thought Coker would beat out Sims for the Alabama job last season, but Coker saw mop-up time only in five games. He finished 38-for-59 for 403 yards, four touchdowns and no picks. Can't really judge anything there because Coker only played in blowouts.
Most believe Coker is the favorite because of his at least limited experience. He also took the majority of the snaps with the first-team offense in the April 18 A-Day Spring Game. He completed 14-for-18 for 183 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Cornwell, a redshirt freshman, appears to be Coker's top competition with Barnett, a true freshman, still in the mix. The other two guys likely just filler for 2015. I wouldn't factor in spring game performance too much because Sims wasn't good in the 2014 version.
Coach Nick Saban's most recent comments on the battle were naturally vague: "Obviously, as soon as we can get to where we can zero in on the first-, second- and third-team guy, the happier we'll be. But I don't think that's something we can force. We're going to let it happen, not make it happen."
I expect him to decide fairly early because Alabama opens the season with a potentially losable game against Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Tide are -13 with a total of 54 on sportsbook odds, but the Badgers are a legitimate threat.
Alabama fans can take solace in that offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin turned Sims into one of the SEC's best quarterbacks. And that Alabama generally doesn't miss a beat in turning to new quarterbacks, going from John Parker Wilson to Greg McElroy to AJ McCarron to Sims under Saban.
Alabama was 5-9 against the spread overall last season and 7-6 'over/under.' How to judge against those numbers with Coker or Cornwell under center? Well, the Tide lost their best receiver in Amari Cooper as well as terrific running back T.J. Yeldon. I expect this to be a bit more of a conservative offense with only four starters back on that side of the ball. Look for a lot of running with Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. Henry, +1800 to win the Heisman, rushed 172 times for 990 yards and 11 scores in 2014. He figures to be the offense's focal point much like Trent Richardson was in 2011 when he was a Heisman finalist.
My point: The offense will not rank 16th in the nation again in scoring but the defense should again be Top 10 nationally. Plus the Tide have to face some nasty defenses this season in Wisconsin, Ole Miss and LSU to name three. So expect plenty of 'under' games. We will have to wait and see how the books deal with the spreads and how the starting QB looks in Week 1.