Spring practice has wrapped up across the SEC, and the top storyline for most teams coming out of it is still the quarterback position. Some teams named a starter in the spring. Others are leaving it open until fall camp begins in August.
This week, we’ll examine five of these open competitions in the conference and debate who we think each team should choose as its starting quarterback.
Next up are the defending national champions, Alabama.
Alex Scarborough: Look, I've learned my lesson when it comes to predicting who Alabama's quarterback will be. In 2014, I said time and time again how there was no way Blake Sims would win the job and proclaimed Jake Coker the starter/savior as early as that spring. And I ended up being dead wrong -- or, at best, half correct and a year off. So rather than trust my gut again, I'll try to make an educated guess using my brain.
As of today, I'd be surprised if Cooper Bateman wasn't the starter in the Sept. 3 opener against USC. He's the safe pick; I realize that. But he's the safe pick for a reason. He's the most experienced quarterback on the roster, and in each of the past two seasons, coach Nick Saban has gone with fifth-year seniors. While Bateman might not have the arm of a David Cornwell or the big-play ability of a Blake Barnett or Jalen Hurts, he's trusted by the coaching staff. And that word -- "trust" -- is worth a lot more than words like "potential" and "upside." You can go ahead and call him a game manager, but that ability to take care of the football and efficiently execute the offense is exactly what Saban is after. With Bo Scarbrough at running back, O.J. Howard at tight end and Calvin Ridley at receiver, Bateman doesn't need to be Superman for Alabama to score points.
Which is not to say that he isn't talented. He is. After all, he wasn't the No. 3-rated pocket passer in his signing class for nothing. He's got a solid arm and better athleticism than you might expect (he's spent some time at receiver). Just watch: His ability to run the read-option will be a major weapon in Lane Kiffin's back pocket.
You can use Bateman's A-Day performance as evidence that he shouldn't be the favorite, and I won't take that away from you. He was pretty bad. But against that defense, who wouldn't be? And, again, look at history. Neither Sims nor Coker shined in the spring before they were named the starter. No one -- not me or anyone else -- thought they were shoo-ins to start, but, lo and behold, they turned out to be SEC champions and 3,000-yard passers.
Greg Ostendorf: If it’s Bateman versus the field, give me the field. Bateman might be the veteran of the group -- like Coker and Sims before him -- but I watched his start against Ole Miss last season and was less than impressed. And as you alluded to, the spring game didn’t do anything to change my mind.
Sure, Bateman might be the safe pick. He’ll protect the football, and that’s what Saban wants from his quarterback. It worked with Coker last season. But the difference between last season and this season is Derrick Henry. The offense went through Henry, and Coker didn’t have to make a ton of throws to win games. As long as he didn’t turn the ball over, Alabama could jump out early, let the defense do its thing, and then have Henry close it out. Did you know Coker only threw for more than 250 yards once during the regular season?
I don’t think it’s going to be that easy this season. I know Scarbrough is supposed to be good, but will he be on Henry’s level? I doubt it. And that’s assuming he stays healthy for a full season. I just get the feeling that the quarterback is going to have to make more throws, and make big throws in crucial situations to win games. I don’t know that Bateman can do that.
So give me the field.
And if I’m picking my favorite among the other candidates, it’s Barnett. He was the most talented coming out of high school. He was hand-picked by Kiffin. And he now has a year of experience under his belt. He also looked impressive in the spring game, albeit against the second-team defense. Would I be shocked if Cornwell won the job? No. But I think Barnett gives Alabama the best chance of repeating as champs in 2016.