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Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Forecasting the Tide: Quarterback

By Alex Scarborough

Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday between now and national signing day, TideNation will review each position and look at who figures to start, who could rise up the depth chart and who might be on the way. Today we’ll look at the quarterbacks. 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron could have said he'd had enough. The junior quarterback for the Alabama Crimson Tide could have looked back on a mesmerizing season in which he set school records, led the country in passing efficiency and won the national championship, and said he'd done all he could. He could have declared for the NFL draft and left nothing unfinished in Tuscaloosa. Back-to-back titles would leave little for fans to gripe about.

But McCarron opted to return for his senior season. Before he picked apart the Notre Dame defense in South Florida, he said he would finish out his career without so much as a year of eligibility remaining.

AJ McCarron
AJ McCarron has a chance to win three consecutive national titles at Alabama.
“I love the University of Alabama, my coaches, my teammates and our fans," McCarron said in a statement through the university. "I am excited to have the opportunity to play with my brother (sophomore tight end Corey McCarron), continue to grow as a leader, continue to help our team win football games and develop even further as a quarterback. The NFL has long been a dream, but I think another year at Alabama can only help my chances of being successful at the next level."

The decision was music to coach Nick Saban's ears. He said, "We are pleased that AJ has decided to return for his senior year next season." What he didn't say was how much it means to next season's outlook. Had McCarron left, there wouldn't be an experienced quarterback to step in behind him. Neither Phillip Ely or Blake Sims separated themselves as the heir to McCarron, completing just eight passes all season. Even as Alabama ran away from Notre Dame, leading by four touchdowns, McCarron never left the game.

"He has a chance to add to what he has already accomplished here while also better preparing himself for the next level," Saban said of McCarron's choice to return to school. "We’re excited to have him back for his senior season."

Excited and relieved.

Battling for No. 1: McCarron returns to Tuscaloosa with the chance to do the impossible. He stands to hold all the major school records by the time he's finished, and he'll have the opportunity to compete for an unbelievable third straight national championship. Winning back-t0-back title was unprecedented enough. Throw in a third and he'll become a legend. He's got the records; he's got the championships. Everything from here on out is icing on the cake.

Strength in numbers: For most of the season, Sims was the No. 2 quarterback. But that's not to say if McCarron went down he would have been the man taking snaps under center. While Sims is a valuable asset, his talent is running the read-option and not attempting upward of 20 passes per game. That's not what he does well. Ely is better suited as a pocket passer, but the fact that he couldn't beat out Sims for the backup duties is revealing. The wild card at quarterback will be redshirt freshman Alec Morris. The 2012 signee is a clone of former Alabama great Greg McElroy -- only bigger. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Texan has a strong arm and comes from a winning background, competing in big-time high school football in the Lone Star State. With a year to learn the playbook and bond with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, he'll have the opportunity to rise up the depth chart.

Help on the way: Morris, however, will have plenty of competition on his hands as Alabama will enter spring practice with a slew of quarterbacks. Saban signed two quarterbacks who have enrolled early and welcomed in a preferred walk on in Luke Del Rio, who turned down scholarship offers from other Division-I schools. Cooper Bateman is the most talented of the bunch. The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Utah native is the third-ranked pocket passer in the ESPN 150. Parker McLeod isn't as heralded as McCarron, but the three-star prospect has plenty of upside. He comes in at 6-foot-3 and 183 pounds and possesses the type of arm that can affect SEC defenses.