Alabama Crimson Tide: David Cornwell

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Score scrimmage No. 1 in favor of Blake Sims.

Yes, he’s something of a work in progress at quarterback. And, yes, it’s fair to say that his skill set doesn’t quite fit what Alabama and coach Nick Saban typically do on offense. But when it came down to proving it on the football field Saturday, Sims did exactly that, completing a team-high 16 of 23 passes for 227 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

[+] EnlargeBlake Sims
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsBlake Sims has accounted for just 244 passing yards in his Alabama career.
Considering only two touchdowns were thrown during the two-hour scrimmage, that’s saying something. His 70 percent completion percentage, no matter how you slice it, is promising, considering his career average is less than 59 percent.

So maybe, just maybe, we’re seeing Sims mature as a quarterback. He’s still a 6-foot former running back and wide receiver with a sometimes awkward throwing motion, but until he’s officially out of the race to replace AJ McCarron, there’s no counting him out. He’s easily the most experienced option and the most dangerous with the football in his hands.

“There are two plays with Blake: the one they call on offense and then when that one doesn't go right, it's the one he makes with his feet,” senior safety Nick Perry said. “We've seen that in college football and even in the NFL with players like Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. He's a dangerous player.”

RG3 and Johnny Football, Sims is not. Put simply, he’s a senior hoping that opportunity and maturity converge at the perfect moment.

Alabama coaches know what Sims can do running the football. All told, he’s carried the ball 67 times for 355 yards and two touchdowns in his career. The real question, though, is whether he can stay in the pocket, set his feet and read a defense. He has a history of being erratic throwing the football, but has that improved with time and the added motivation of competition? Saturday’s scrimmage seemed to indicate a move in a positive direction.

Saban didn’t say much about the play of each quarterback, but he did note that Sims has had a “really good spring” and has “taken some command.”

But the job isn’t guaranteed to anyone. Along with Sims, Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman are in the mix.

“Those three guys have sort of emerged as the three guys that look like they’re most ready to play,” Saban said. “Nobody’s disappointed in anybody else. We actually feel like our freshman (David Cornwell), who is coming off of an injury, has a lot of potential. He’s just not 100 percent healthy yet.

“So we’re pleased with the progress those guys have made.”

Sims is clearly doing everything he can to separate himself. Instead of going to the beach and relaxing during spring break last week, he went to Florida and trained with quarterback coach Ken Mastrole.

The two worked on technical aspects like footwork, being on time with the football and reading coverages, Sims said, but it went beyond that. As much as he wants to improve as a passer, he’s hoping to become more of a leader as well.

“[Mastrole] was a quarterback, so he gave me the knowledge of how to pick up your teammates and go at them so you’re not a nagging quarterback,” Sims said. “You’re supposed to be a motivation and keep them positive and keep a great mindset with them.”

In other words, Sims isn’t letting the heat of competition get to him. When asked about soon-to-be Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, Sims said he loved his personality and looked forward to welcoming him "with open arms."

“We're not thinking about the battle against each other,” Sims said. “We're just trying to think of how we can make Bama the best way they can be, and how can we have good communication with the players if we're with the ones or we're with the twos or with the threes. We're just trying to play harder and make each group better.”

Of course, Sims isn’t getting ahead of himself, but admitted, “It’s very fun to see where your ability can take you in life.”

“It would be nice,” said Sims of potentially being named the starter. “It would be nice for me and I think I would like it. Watching AJ do the great thing that he did at the University of Alabama -- if I am the one that’s chosen to be the quarterback at Alabama, I’d like to keep it going.”

He might be the more unorthodox option, but if Sims keeps playing like he did Saturday and continues improving as a passer, he'll have a shot to do just that. The competition won't be decided until the fall, but Sims is off to the right start.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama isn't in a rush to find its starting quarterback for the 2014 season.

That might sound a little crazy when you consider the high expectations the Crimson Tide will undoubtedly face yet again this fall, but it really isn't the biggest concern for a team that was an improbable play away from repeating as SEC West champs and possibly playing in its third straight BCS title game last season.

[+] EnlargeMorris/Bateman
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlec Morris (left) and Cooper Bateman (right), along with Blake Sims, have separated themselves a bit in Alabama's QB derby.
While the team can wait it out on finding a starter -- especially with former Florida State quarterback Jacob Coker enrolling after spring -- Saturday's scrimmage could go a long way to finding a little separation with the five guys currently vying for the position.

“Obviously, the first scrimmage kind of shows you who wants to really work for the spot and who doesn’t," Crimson Tide center Ryan Kelly said about the quarterback competition.

With Coker not on campus, Alabama has turned to Blake Sims, Cooper Bateman, Alec Morris, David Cornwell and Parker McLeod to share reps under center this spring. Sims, a redshirt senior, is the only one with any experience, but he changes the offense some with his mobility. While all five bring something different to the table, the plan for Alabama will be to run more of a pro-style offense. Sims might be the odd one of the bunch when it comes to that, but new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's arrival shouldn't change the basic structure of an offense Sims is very familiar with.

Alabama has only had a handful of scrimmages, but players have been at it since pre-spring 7-on-7s began. For wide receiver Christion Jones, each QB has taken advantage of every rep afforded to him since last season ended. For now, Jones said Sims, Bateman and Morris have stood out from the bunch.

“Everyone has their time where they struggle a little bit, but those three guys are the ones who overcome," Jones said. "Even when they mess up it’s not really a letdown or they get frustrated. Those three take the coaching better. The other guys still have to learn to take the coaching and take the criticism and make yourself better out of it.”

We'll be able to see a little more of that Saturday. The guys who have prepared the most and bought in more will stand out. They won't have to be perfect, but they'll have to show that they've learned something in the last few weeks.

In a perfect world for the Tide, a starter would be in place and this team could worry more about developing, but trying to find a new signal-caller means that players around them are having to do more. Linemen are having to adjust to five different patterns and cadences from each quarterback, while receivers are dealing with five different releases, five different throwing styles and five different versions of in-huddle terminology.

Jones said it isn't exactly ideal, but it is making receivers better, as they are having to concentrate even more on what they are doing in practices to accommodate for each passer.

“This spring, it’s more of focus level because we don’t know who the starting quarterback is," he said. "Either one of those five guys could be it. We have to be on our Ps and Qs and we have to be at that right spot at that right time. We don’t know what these guys are thinking right now. It makes you always be ball-ready because you never know what can happen.”

Saturday will be a good stepping stone for each quarterback, but it won't necessarily decide anything. To Kelly, it doesn't matter who is under center, he's going to be expected to excel. That's how elite programs roll, and Kelly wants each quarterback he's working with to understand that.

“It doesn’t matter who’s in that position, you’re going to be held to the standard that you’re going to do your job the best you can," Kelly said. "Otherwise, if all five guys aren’t on the same page then something bad is going to happen.”
Editor’s note: This is final part in a weeklong series predicting what changes are ahead for Alabama this spring.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There’s a lot that stands to happen during spring practice at Alabama, but naming a starting quarterback isn’t one of them. Nick Saban has made it clear he and his staff are in no rush to find AJ McCarron’s replacement under center, adding that it would only be fair to give every quarterback a shot at winning the job. That, of course, comes as a nod to the only quarterback not yet on campus, soon-to-be Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, who should finish his degree and get to campus in May.

[+] EnlargeJacob Coker
Jeff Gammons/Getty ImagesJacob Coker, despite the fact he won't be on campus in time for spring practice, looks like the favorite in the race to replace AJ McCarron.
“We're not going to be in any hurry to decide who the quarterback is,” Saban told reporters last week. “We're going to give everybody a lot of opportunity to compete. You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback, and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 'We're going to wait and sees.’ "

If Coker wasn’t the frontrunner to land the job, why wait? Why not have the quarterback competition begin in earnest now and let the chips fall where they may? Is it really fair to make those already on campus wait? If one of them looks like the starter this spring, would it be right to hold off on making that decision? Wouldn't some continuity benefit everyone involved?

The inevitable answer to nearly every question surrounding Alabama’s quarterback competition is that Coker -- barring someone coming out of nowhere -- will remain the favorite through spring practice and on into fall camp. From everything that’s been reported, he might be the most talented option on the roster. And after three years at a very similar offensive system at Florida State, he might be the most experienced option on the roster, too.

But all that is not to say that someone can’t make a name for himself this spring. The quarterbacks currently in camp aren’t chopped liver, remember. They are all talented and eager and have the benefit of a head start. Should someone perform well and catch the eye of the coaching staff during these next 15 practices, he very well could get a leg up on Coker and the rest of the competition heading into the fall.

So who is best equipped to do that? Let’s handicap the race, ranking the quarterbacks from most likely to succeed to least.

1. Cooper Bateman: Long time, no see. You came to Alabama early in 2013 as a highly regarded prospect, the No. 3 pocket passer in the ESPN 300. Since then, we haven’t heard much from you. Of the two guys ESPN ranked above you -- USC’s Max Browne and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg -- one has already won a starting job and the other is competing for one this spring. Can you do the same? You redshirted last season, which is normal for first-year quarterbacks, but what did you learn in that time? Did it mean anything to you when Alabama went and signed another blue-chip quarterback, David Cornwell? Did you think anything of Alabama then going out and getting Coker from Florida State? There has already been one highly thought of quarterback like you come to Tuscaloosa, fall behind and transfer (former No. 1 QB prospect Phillip Sims). Will you do the same? Or will you show us what made you a top recruit only a year ago?

2. Alec Morris: What are we to think of you, Alec? On the one hand, you look the part. You’re a big dude at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, bigger than any Alabama quarterback on campus last year. And when you rear back to throw the football, it has some zip on it. Redshirting your first year on campus didn’t hurt you, but your lack of pass attempts last season -- as in, zero -- doesn’t bode well. If Blake Sims really isn’t the guy for the job this season, why didn’t you play ahead of him? You got into one game all season, while he got into eight and threw the ball 29 times. None of those passes was meaningful, the game always being well in hand by the time he stepped on the field, so why not give those valuable reps to you and get you ready for 2014? The hope for you is that last year was no indication of future success, but that’s a tough thesis to subscribe to.

3. Parker McLeod: We don’t know much about you, Parker, except that you’re supposedly very smart, very tall and have red hair. None of that’s going to hurt you. Heck, Greg McElroy had the same hue of hair. But on a more serious note, you weren’t as highly regarded as your fellow Class of 2013 quarterback. You were a three-star prospect and the fifth-best quarterback in the state of Georgia, according to ESPN. Still, you’re a wild card after redshirting your first year on campus. We didn’t see much of you. You have good size (6-3, 193 pounds) and you do have that red hair going for you. Now build on that.

4. Blake Sims: Sorry, Blake. It’s understood that you’re the most experienced man for the job. With 18 games under your belt at quarterback and all of last season as McCarron’s top backup, you probably understand the offense better than most. You’re definitely the most athletic.You’re dangerous when you run the read-option and get the ball into open space. The problem is we don’t know what you can do throwing the football, especially from the confines of the pocket. Until we see that, it’s hard to say you’re the man for the job -- not for a coaching staff that values balance on offense.

5. David Cornwell: You’re talented, sure. Big, strong, a cannon for an arm; you have the look of an SEC quarterback down the road. But right now you’re too young. You just got on campus in January and, on top of that, you missed much of your senior season in high school with a knee injury. You say your rehab has gone well and you’re ready to compete, but that’s asking a lot. The good news for you is that everyone will be starting from scratch under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. The question is whether you can pick up your first college playbook faster than those that have been doing it longer than you.
Editor’s note: This is Part I of a weeklong series predicting what changes are ahead for Alabama this spring.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was a long and winding quote that really ended nowhere and didn’t reveal much at all. Alabama coach Nick Saban was asked what impact Lane Kiffin might have on the offense in 2014, and he didn’t bite. So far removed from the start of the season, he chose to play it close to the vest, answering the question in a way that gave away nothing.

“Every coach wants to create as much improvement as possible as he can with the players he coaches and the unit he's responsible for. I think Lane certainly has the knowledge and experience to do that," Saban said of his new offensive coordinator, the former USC and Tennessee head coach. "I think players sort of respect him and, from what I've seen so far, [they] have a good relationship. You're talking about offseason program and off-the-field kind of stuff, but I think from an accountability standpoint, coaches and players, that because of his knowledge and experience that would be something that he can contribute to our team in a positive way with.”

[+] EnlargeDerrick Henry
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesExpect Lane Kiffin to find new and unique ways to utilize players such as sophomore RB Derrick Henry.
If you were looking for more in the way of specifics, you were left disappointed. But it wasn't altogether unexpected. Kiffin should enact significant changes on the offense in 2014 -- just don’t expect to know what they’ll be ahead of time. Neither he nor Saban are ones to tip their hand early.

Overall, Kiffin is expected to bring more punch to Alabama’s attack. First, he’ll have to settle on a starting quarterback, of course, but beyond that he’ll bring a new flavor to Tuscaloosa, Ala., starting with a more up-tempo feel. Saban hinted at such a change last season when he told ESPN in September that, “It’s something we’re going to look at. I think we’ll have to.

“I think we need to play faster and will have to do more of that going forward,” he said at the time. “The only reason we haven't done more of it to this point is that our guys seem to play better when we don't [go fast] just because it's been our style and we've had reasonably good success moving the ball and running the ball.”

But that will change this spring. AJ McCarron is gone from under center. Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell are no longer out wide at receiver. The conservative tendencies of Doug Nussmeier and Jim McElwain before him have been replaced by the more forward-thinking Kiffin.

Along with a quicker tempo, expect more playmakers to emerge under Kiffin’s rule.

Alabama has too much talent at running back to continue rotating backs on the field one at a time. With versatile weapons such as Derrick Henry and Bo Scarbrough available, Kiffin could easily split them out at receiver or shift them on the line at H-back. Just the threat of a quick pass out to a player with breakaway speed like theirs should be enough to make opponents commit a defender, freeing up a teammate in the process.

Speaking of stretching the defense thin, look for O.J. Howard to do much more in the passing game as a sophomore. The former No. 2-rated tight end in the ESPN 300 showed flashes of promise as a true freshman in 2013 but went missing at times. Whether that was the fault of his own inexperience or poor coaching is up for interpretation.

Whatever the answer, though, it won’t be an excuse in 2014. There’s no greater threat to the defense than an athletic tight end who can split the middle of the defense. Howard, at 6-foot-6 and 237 pounds with receiver-like speed, fits that mold perfectly. Kiffin had great success with Fred Davis at USC and Luke Stocker at Tennessee and could find a similar payout with Howard at Alabama.

Finally, don’t forget the wealth of talent Kiffin inherits at receiver. Despite Norwood and Bell departing, there’s plenty left in the cupboard in Tuscaloosa. Amari Cooper, when healthy, is among the best receivers in the SEC. Given Kiffin’s work with Marqise Lee, Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett at USC, Cooper should be licking his chops to work with his new offensive coordinator.

Throw in DeAndrew White, Christion Jones and a slew of other young, talented receivers behind them and Kiffin has more than enough weapons to work with.

The 38-year-old's reputation as a play caller and developer of talent precedes him, according to David Cornwell, who committed to Alabama prior to Kiffin's arrival and enrolled early in January just days before the hire was announced.

"Coach Kiffin, man, he’s the guy," the No. 4-rated pocket passer in the 2014 ESPN 300 explained. "I really look forward to getting to know him. I think you all know what he can do. You look at him offensively, I think he’s going to do great things for Alabama.”

But what in particular?

“His explosiveness," Cornwell said, with a smirk. "I know he’ll bring a different kind of feel to Alabama. From what I hear, it could be a whole different offense."

While some of Alabama’s offensive inefficiencies in the recent past have been greatly exaggerated, there’s still more than enough room for Kiffin to improve upon. By upping the tempo and developing more playmakers, he stands to breathe some much-needed life into the Tide in 2014. Whether it's a David Cornwell, a Jacob Coker or an Alec Morris under center at quarterback, he'll have the keys to a potentially speedy ride.

Granted, we won’t know specifically what the offense is capable of until we see it in action. But from the outside looking in, the possibilities are great.

Hopefully we'll get a sneak peek when spring practice starts later this week, but don't count on it.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban has hosted enough quarterback competitions to know how this oncoming saga will play out. From now until the moment he names a starter under center, the entire state of Alabama will be in a panic over who will become AJ McCarron's successor. The rest of the country will be watching, too.

Is Cooper Bateman really ready to take a step forward after redshirting last season? What about Parker McLeod and Alec Morris? Would Saban dare gamble on the run-oriented Blake Sims? Is it possible that true freshman David Cornwell could get a look? My goodness, what about Jacob Coker?! Isn’t the job really his anyways?!

As Saban sat down with a group of reporters on Wednesday to discuss the start of spring practice and a number of other issues facing his Crimson Tide, he seemed resigned to the oncoming quarterback drama. Asked what he was looking for in the next starter, he listed a number of qualities: the ability to process information quickly, to make good decisions, to throw the ball accurately, to manage the game and make the correct calls.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIf you think Nick Saban is just going to open up daily about the QB competition, think again.
“Whoever can do that on the most consistent basis and have the kind of leadership to affect the people on offense around them is the guy that will probably have the best possibility to win the job,” Saban explained.

And then came the disclaimer.

“But let me be very clear about this,” he said. “We're not going to be in any hurry to decide who the quarterback is.”

That’s right, folks. Saban and his staff plan on taking their time with this decision. So hold your questions, please. Whatever opinions you have on who should start and why, keep them to yourselves until this is over.

“We're not going to be in any hurry to decide who the quarterback is,” Saban said. “We're going to give everybody a lot of opportunity to compete. You guys are going to ask me at least 1,000 times between now and the first game who's the first-team quarterback, and I'm telling you right now you're probably going to get a 1,000 ‘We're going to wait and see.’”

Saban’s been through this before. If you count John Parker Wilson, he’s been a part of naming three starting quarterbacks at Alabama. He did the same at LSU and Michigan State plenty of times before that. And each and every time he’s been content to employ the wait-and-see approach.

When the temperature rises and the competition heats up in the coming months, Tide fans will do well to remember that Saban didn't rush naming McCarron the starter in 2011, and that worked out to the tune of two national championships and a slew of new school passing records.

“When AJ became quarterback him and Phillip Sims actually alternated quarters in the first two games, I think, to see who played the best,” Saban said, drilling the point home now. “And it really was hard on all you guys.

“I think it's important to get it right. ... And we have one candidate in this horse race who's not even going to be here until May, till he graduates where he is now. He's certainly a guy that's going to compete for the position too.”

Ah, Jacob Coker.

Whatever we think we're able to learn this spring will come with the caveat that the primary competition hasn’t even arrived yet. Coker, who will make his transfer from Florida State complete in May if he passes all his remaining classes, is the presumed frontrunner to win the job. He’s not bowing to the pressure that comes with that, but it won’t change the perception around camp this fall that he's the man to beat.

Saban would cringe at such assumptions. But his desire for less talk and more patience will do nothing to change what's sure to develop into a circus-type atmosphere as we inch closer to the start of the season. Between Coker's hype, the other quarterbacks competing and the arrival of Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator, all eyes will be squarely on who's under center in Alabama. Every day a starter isn't named will be a day someone somewhere will talk about who it should be rather than who it actually is.

Just don't look for the competition itself to play itself out publicly. Scrimmages at Alabama are closed to the general public and media. Reporters only see the first few minutes of practice each day, and it's never enough to glean any real information. Getting insight from coaches and players will be next to impossible. None of the quarterbacks are likely to be made available to reporters while the competition is ongoing, and teammates who do speak won't stray from the company line. If you're looking for Kiffin to talk, he'll have his one and only media obligation of the year in early August, and even then he's never been one to show his cards. Which leaves Saban, who won't deviate from his steadfast policy to divulge nothing and speculate on even less.

So trade predictions at the water cooler, shout at the talking heads on television and scream at talk radio all you want. Whatever you do, though, have a little patience. Because whatever soap opera you were hoping for just isn't going to happen. This is The Nick Saban Show and it has very little in the way of drama.
Over the span of their careers they threw for 48,824 passing yards. There were a total 403 touchdown passes among them, and they won 184 games in which they appeared, including 11 bowls and two national championships. They were, arguably, the most talented and productive class of quarterbacks ever to play in the SEC at one time. And now they’re all gone.

[+] EnlargeDylan Thompson
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesDylan Thompson saw a lot of playing time last season when Connor Shaw went out.
The SEC had to say goodbye to James Franklin, Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Zach Mettenberger, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw in January. The void they leave behind is enormous, and while some programs already have an idea of who will take their place next season, not all are so lucky.

We’re counting down the five most pressing questions facing the SEC this spring, in no particular order of importance. First, how do you replace all the veteran quarterbacks the league enjoyed in 2013?

When spring camps open over the next few weeks -- the first being Texas A&M on Friday -- that question will begin to be answered. With each snap and each team meeting, leaders will emerge. Some staffs will look for a winner heading into the summer so they can avoid a quarterback controversy come fall, while others will have to sweat it out through the offseason.

Texas A&M: Surprises will undoubtedly occur, as we saw only a few years ago when a scrappy freshman from Kerrville, Texas, beat out the presumptive favorite to land the starting job at Texas A&M. The Aggies stumbled upon Manziel, and Jameill Showers was quickly forgotten. Kenny Hill and Matt Joeckel are this year’s frontrunners, but they’ll have competition in another freshman nipping at their heels in Kyle Allen. The Arizona native is more of a pure passer than a running quarterback, but he has the tools to sling the ball around in Kevin Sumlin’s offense.

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier didn’t mince words when he saidDylan Thompson is “without question going to be our quarterback.” He even asked, “Why open it up when he’s the only one who’s played?” Thompson, a rising senior, doesn’t have the athleticism to break containment quite like Shaw, but Thompson can still move the chains with his feet when necessary. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound South Carolina native doesn’t lack for arm strength and might even have more pure throwing ability than Shaw. But where Thompson must match Shaw is intangibles. There wasn’t a more dynamic leader in the SEC than Shaw last year, and the Gamecocks will miss that kind of will power under center in 2014. While the starting job is Thompson’s to lose, don’t sleep on redshirt freshman Connor Mitch. The former four-star recruit could push Thompson this spring.

Missouri: The race to replace Franklin comes down to one quarterback and one quarterback alone: Maty Mauk. The rising redshirt sophomore showed last season that he can control the offense, starting four games in which he averaged 227.5 yards, 2.5 touchdowns and 0.5 interceptions per game. More importantly, he won three of the four games with the only loss coming in double overtime against South Carolina. He’ll learn from that experience and take over a team that will be moving on from the loss of big-time playmakers Henry Josey, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas. Having the ultra-talented Dorial Green-Beckham back will help, but an arrest on drug charges in January has clouded his future.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cornwell
Courtesy of Cornwell familyEarly enrollee and former four-star recruit David Cornwell will get his shot at Alabama's starting QB job this spring.
LSU: The Tigers faithful got a sneak peek at their next quarterback, Anthony Jennings, after Mettenberger tore his ACL and was forced to miss LSU’s bowl game. The rising sophomore didn’t drop anyone’s jaw against Iowa, but he did just enough, throwing for 82 yards on 7 of 19 passing, while letting his supporting cast do the heavy lifting. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, Jennings has the look of a starting quarterback in the SEC. The former four-star recruit played sparingly in 2013, though, attempting just 10 passes prior to the Outback Bowl. He’ll have to contend with Brandon Harris, ESPN’s No. 37 overall prospect and No. 2 dual-threat passer in the 2014 class, along with rising senior Rob Bolden and rising sophomore Hayden Rettig.

Georgia: Despite what wasn’t a great performance to end last season -- 21-of-39 for 320 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Nebraska -- Hutson Mason is still the overwhelming favorite to replace Murray. Why? Because Mark Richt and the coaching staff have essentially been grooming Mason to take over for years now, redshirting him in 2012 so he would have a year left to play in 2014. Mason was once a three-star quarterback who put up huge numbers running the spread at Lassiter High School in nearby Marietta, and with Todd Gurley behind him, he won’t be asked to do too much his first year starting. While he might be a year away, don’t write off Faton Bauta just yet. The 6-3, 216-pound redshirt sophomore has impressed the staff with his work ethic and could find his way into some playing time.

Alabama: Oddly enough, the quarterback many presume will take over for McCarron won’t actually arrive until the summer. Jacob Coker, the heralded transfer from Florida State, will be a little late finishing his degree in Tallahassee, which leaves a big opportunity for the rest of Alabama’s quarterbacks to make a first impression. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will instead have his focus on Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Parker McLeod and Cooper Bateman this spring. Sims, who best fits the mold of a run-first quarterback, has a lot of work ahead of him to prove he can play from the pocket. Morris, meanwhile, didn’t get much time as a redshirt freshman last season and needs to improve his decision-making from the last time we saw him at A-Day. Bateman and McLeod are relative unknowns after redshirting last season, but Bateman, a four-star recruit, does come with a lofty pedigree. The wild card is David Cornwell, the four-star recruit who enrolled in January and will benefit from the fresh start all of the quarterbacks will get under Kiffin.

Room to improve: QB

February, 21, 2014
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Editor’s note: This is Part V in a weeklong series looking at Alabama’s top five position groups with room to improve.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s the most obvious position with room for improvement at Alabama: Quarterback. With AJ McCarron gone and no incumbent starter to step in, the race is wide open.

Throw in a new offensive coordinator -- you might have heard it’s a guy named Lane Kiffin -- and you’ve got all the ingredients for an interesting drama.

"That'll be a really good competition this spring -- really, really excited about our young players on the roster at that position," former offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier told reporters before the Sugar Bowl and before leaving to take the offensive coordinator job at Michigan. "With any young quarterback there's a steep learning curve, and for those guys it's about getting snaps every day and continuing to progress, and I like the development that we've seen in those young players. They need to continue to grow. We need to have a really, really good offseason. But I'm very excited about what that competition is going to hold come spring."

Nussmeier, obviously, won’t be around to see it. Neither will Luke Del Rio, who transferred to Oregon State in January in what was a curious move considering he was the only true freshman to travel with the team last season.

[+] EnlargeJacob Coker
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJacob Coker, who will transfer in from Florida State this summer, has a strong arm.
But never fear: Alabama has plenty of options at quarterback, and the most intriguing one is a few months away from enrolling.

Battling for No. 1: He isn’t yet on campus, and he won’t be until after the spring. In fact, Jacob Coker is too busy trying to graduate from Florida State to concern himself with where he ranks in Alabama’s quarterback competition. But that hasn’t stopped Tide fans from anointing him the front-runner to replace McCarron. Coker, who slipped past Nick Saban and his staff as a recruit out of high school in Mobile, Ala., committed to Alabama in January, ending the months-long drama surrounding his decision. His legend ballooned over that time, casting him as a quarterback with a cannon for an arm and a competitive streak that nearly allowed him to beat out eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. We’ll see during fall camp whether he can live up to such high expectations.

Strength in numbers: It’s been conveniently ignored that Coker isn’t in a one-man race to become Alabama’s next starting quarterback. Considering that he won’t even compete in spring practice, it’s safe to say he’s not in all that enviable a position to win the job in the first place. For Blake Sims, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod -- and yes, the race includes that many contestants -- making a lasting impression during the spring will be vital. Sims, despite being listed as McCarron’s backup last season, doesn’t have the skill set to fit Saban’s pro-style system. An athletic, running quarterback, he could ultimately be a change-of-pace option at the position, leaving Morris as the next most experienced quarterback. Morris, a strong-armed Texan, has two years with Saban under his belt. But considering he didn’t attempt a single pass in 2013, it’s safe to say that Bateman and McLeod are right on his heels.

New on the scene: The wild card in all this is David Cornwell, who graduated from high school in December and enrolled at Alabama in January. The No. 2-rated pocket passer in the ESPN 300, he’s got all the tools to do well in Saban’s system. The question is when. Considering his lack of experience in high school -- he missed almost all of his senior season -- and his status as a true freshman, it’s likely too much to ask for him to compete for the starting job right away. The one thing in his benefit is that Kiffin is new. He doesn’t have an impression of any of the quarterbacks and will judge the competition with fresh eyes. With a strong showing in the spring, Cornwell could make Kiffin and Saban think twice about playing a true freshman.
 
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The paperwork is on all of Alabama’s 2014 recruiting class. And now that it’s official, it’s time to start the process of analyzing who each prospect reminds us of.

Potential is a dangerous thing, so keep in mind that these comparisons are looking at the best case scenario for each player. As always, everything depends on what happens when they get to campus and how they develop when they get there.

Yesterday we looked at the defensive players. Today it's on to the offensive signees.

OL Josh Casher
Projects as: With J.C. Hassenauer also vying for time at center, look for Casher to get a look at guard where he could remind many of former Alabama three-year starter Anthony Steen. Both lacked ideal height (well under 6-foot-5) but have great strength and above-average drive.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesA big QB who's tough to bring down? Sounds like Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and David Cornwell have some things in common.
QB David Cornwell
Projects as: A strong-armed passer who isn’t easy to bring down, Cornwell is eerily reminiscent of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. That said, the one hold up on Cornwell is his lack of experience having missed a lot of playing time in high school.

QB Jacob Coker
Projects as: He’s more Jameis Winston than AJ McCarron. Make no mistake, Coker is an athlete who can evade pressure and pick up yards with his feet. Throw in a strong arm and you’re looking at something similar to former Auburn signal-caller Cam Newton.

TE Ty Flournoy-Smith
Projects as: Not just because he originally signed with and played for Georgia, but Flournoy-Smith is similar to former Bulldog Orson Charles. In fact, they’re almost exactly the same size at 6-3 and 245 pounds, and both are primarily threats in the passing game.

OL J.C. Hassenauer
Projects as: If you’re drawing up a blueprint for a college center, you’re going to land on someone similar to Hassenauer, who has good quickness, good strength and the build (6-3, 292 pounds) to work in close quarters. Though he’s an inch taller and a few pounds lighter, he compares favorably to former USC center Ryan Kalil.

OL Dominick Jackson
Projects as: Get ready for another D.J. Fluker at offensive tackle, albeit a little lighter. Jackson, the No. 1 junior college tackle in the country, is enormous at 6-6 and 310 pounds. And like Fluker, Jackson is somewhat questionable in space and even played guard in junior college.

OL Montel McBride
Projects as: Alabama fans will remember that Chance Warmack wasn’t the most highly regarded prospect coming out of high school. Like McBride, he wasn’t a top-15 player at his position nationally. McBride has a similar thick build at 6-4 and 349 pounds.

OL Cameron Robinson
Projects as: He’s Cyrus Kouandjio 2.0. Both were No. 1 at their position, in the top 10 overall and had expectations to compete from Day 1. Really, both had the look of All-SEC linemen the minute they stepped on campus. Robinson fits the bill as a rock-solid 6-5 and 330 pounds.

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesBo Scarbrough will be a RB first at Alabama and has the look of a big back like Steven Jackson back when he was with the Rams.
ATH Bo Scarbrough
Projects as: Alabama coach Nick Saban insisted that Scarbrough is a “running back first” despite his ability at receiver. His 6-foot-2 frame will catch some off guard as being too tall, but so is Falcons’ running back Steven Jackson, who was a similar one-cut explosive back early in his career.

WR Derek Kief
Projects as: With his size (6-5, 198 pounds), Kief has the chance to be a real threat inside the red zone. The top-20 receiver doesn’t have the out-of-this-world Larry Fitzgerald athleticism, so look at him as a potential Mohamed Massaquoi from Georgia, who gradually developed into an NFL prospect in Athens.

WR Cameron Sims
Projects as: The comparison to Alshon Jeffery is fitting. But since it’s been thrown around plenty, let’s go another direction and throw another former SEC receiver out there, this time Brandon LaFell. Both were tall, rangy athletes with good feet and good burst.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban isn’t a particularly joyous man in front of a microphone. Speaking with the media is more an obligation he suffers through for the greater good. He doesn’t enjoy previewing games; he’s too worried about the process of preparing. He doesn’t enjoy the postmortem following games either; win or lose, he’s too concerned about the next challenge that awaits.

But the 62-year-old head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide does allow himself a respite from the pain of constantly looking ahead at least one day during the year. He is in his element more than ever on signing day. And despite the media hubbub that surrounds the counting of stars and the faxing of paperwork, Saban appears happy, relieved even. A smile shows on his tanned face and he looks like a man who genuinely loves his job no matter its obligations. At least for a moment, he’s willing to take a deep breath and reflect.

Christmas in July? Try Christmas in February, at least in Alabama.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesIf there's anything that can get Nick Saban smiling, it's the process of building and signing a recruiting class.
Maybe it was the prospects hung like ornaments on the “Big Board” that created the festive atmosphere at Alabama’s football offices. Derek Kief, a four-star wide receiver from Ohio, was the first to fax in his letter of intent early Wednesday morning. Da'Shawn Hand, the No. 2 defensive end in the ESPN 300, and Bo Scarbrough, the No. 2 athlete in his class, would join him as the 15th and 27th signees, respectively. Eight early enrollees beat everyone to the punch by starting class in January, including the top offensive tackle and the second-best cornerback in the country.

Jacob Coker, a highly sought after quarterback from Florida State, signed his paperwork to transfer to Alabama weeks earlier. By the time signing day was over and all the faxes had rolled in, Saban counted up five five-stars, 17 four-stars and the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the third consecutive year.

“Certainly great to see everybody here again,” Saban said that afternoon, giving the media assembled for his annual news conference a knowing, sarcastic smile. “I’ve missed you all since Jan. 1. I think you know how much.”

Sporting brownish slacks, a crimson coat and a matching crimson and cream tie, Saban looked the part of a proud University of Alabama salesman, a veteran campus recruiter ready to give a campus tour on the spot.

Before gushing over his prized signees, he allowed himself to look back on the process as a whole, calling the day “an accumulation of a lot of hard work and a lot of time spent by a whole bunch of people.” His laundry list of thank-yous included everyone from the president of the university to the athletic director to the academic support staff. He even thanked fans who come out to games and events, such as A-Day.

It was as though he had to go around the table once and say a few words before digging into a holiday feast. He didn’t want to leave anyone out on a day like this.

“We had a good class and we sort of identified our needs,” Saban said. “I think the key to that is that we satisfied our needs because we identified those needs early on in the recruiting process and evaluated the players we thought fit in best for what we want to do. I think that we did a good job of going out and getting a lot of those players.”

Alabama needed a quarterback. So it went and got Coker to go along with David Cornwell, the No. 4-rated pocket passer in the country.

Alabama needed a couple of cornerbacks. So it signed Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey, two five-stars.

Alabama needed help on the offensive line. So it put together maybe the best O-line class in school history with not only Robinson, but Dominick Johnson, the top junior college offensive tackle.

[+] EnlargeRashaan Evans
AP Photo/Butch DillTaking Rashaan Evans out of Auburn's backyard put a bow on top of another top-ranked recruiting class.
Finally, Alabama needed more athletic defensive linemen and outside linebackers to create pressure off the edge. So it signed some of the best pass-rushers available, pulling off a huge coup by nabbing four-star Rashaan Evans out of Auburn’s backyard.

“One of the goals we had was to get a little more fast-twitch, quicker-body-type guys to play on the edges for us,” Saban said. “We're playing against a lot more spread. I feel between the outside backer types we got, as well as some of the more athletic kind of defensive ends we got, that maybe we satisfied that need as well.

“We also needed a punter and we feel good about the punter we were able to attract in this class.”

Whatever Saban needed, he got. Prospects were just waiting for him under the tree as if it were Christmas morning. His haul turned out to be the envy of every program in the country.

But why was Saban so happy? It wasn’t that he won signing day or that he had all the best toys when it was over. No, he has had plenty of wins in his career. He’s not one to bask in a trophy, real or imagined.

Rather, he was pleased because this is what he does year-around. This is what he works for and what the NFL could never offer him: a chance to develop relationships. Getting to know recruits, establishing trust and convincing them to come to his program is the first step in his life’s calling as a college football coach. It’s Part 1 in his beloved “Process” -- the second step being to develop his players and win games. But even winning means recruiting to Saban, who famously said after winning the national championship in 2013 that it took time away from talking to prospects.

He could smile on signing day because it’s the end of something challenging. He can laugh and poke fun at the media because there’s not something dreadful that lies ahead. Instead, signing a recruiting class is both the end and the start of something special.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Because he’s a signed prospect, Nick Saban will have to address the addition of Jacob Coker during spring practice.

[+] EnlargeBlake Sims
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsBlake Sims will be one of five QBs who will be competing in Alabama's spring practice.
He’ll have to, at some point, answer questions about the quarterback transferring from Florida State, the strong-armed former backup to a Heisman Trophy winner whom Alabama fans hope will develop into something of an award-winning quarterback himself in Tuscaloosa.

But there will be so much more to spring practice than Coker, mostly because he won’t even be there. If you think Alabama’s offense is simply waiting on his arrival, you’re wrong. While Coker finishes his degree in Tallahassee, new Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will have more than enough work to do.

So while spring practice may still be several weeks away, here’s a look at three things Kiffin must accomplish during camp. You’ll notice Coker’s name is nowhere to be found.

The Forgotten
Oh, the other guys? Yeah, Alabama has quite a few quarterbacks already on the roster. Blake Sims, AJ McCarron’s backup, is still around. So is Alec Morris, who traveled with the team as a redshirt freshman last season. Luke Del Rio’s transfer makes last year's trio of true freshmen one less, but Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod are both back. And David Cornwell, No. 4 in the ESPN 300, enrolled early and will compete during spring practice as well.

Kiffin, who is also the quarterbacks coach, has five guys who want to win the starting job now. They're not going to wait around until someone else -- we won’t say his name again, remember? -- arrives in the summer.

Getting Sims more comfortable taking snaps under center and throwing from the pocket will be a big challenge for Kiffin, as will developing confidence in the younger quarterbacks. Having them all in tune with the new playbook will be a big goal of the spring, giving them the leg up they'll need to enter fall camp ready to compete from Day 1.

Developing young weapons
Former offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has been blamed by some for limiting the explosiveness of Alabama’s offense in 2013. Further analysis disputes that fact, though, as Alabama had the fifth-highest percentage of plays of 10 or more yards in the country last season. The more appropriate critique might have been who was making big plays rather than how many as Nussmeier struggled to incorporate new offensive weapons like O.J. Howard and Derrick Henry.

Howard, despite being the most athletic tight end on the roster and one of the best playmakers on offense, caught just 14 passes. In nine games he caught one or no passes. Meanwhile, Brian Vogler, the starter, had all of eight receptions in 2013 and caught no passes in the final three games.

How Henry, the clear winner of the Allstate Sugar Bowl with 161 total yards and two touchdowns, took so long to develop is anyone’s guess. He didn’t carry the ball a single time in Alabama’s four closest regular-season games: Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn. His big body might have helped when Alabama faced a number of short-yardage situations in the Iron Bowl.

Kiffin, though, won’t have the excuse of youth with Howard or Henry this fall. Getting them more involved in the offense and developing underused weapons like Chris Black and Raheem Falkins will be paramount to Alabama's success in 2014.

Reestablishing the offensive line
Here’s a bit of not-so breaking news: Alabama's 2012 offensive line that so many called the best in the history of college football is gone. All of it. With Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen off to the NFL, every piece of that five-man puzzle has left campus.

Now Kiffin and offensive line coach Mario Cristobal must find new faces to build around. Three starters will return -- center Ryan Kelly, guard Arie Kouandjio and tackle Austin Shepherd -- and one or more of them will have to assume a greater leadership role with so many veterans gone. Leon Brown, who filled in admirably for Steen in the Sugar Bowl, looks ready to start, and the left tackle competition will be heated with a number of returning players and incoming freshman Cam Robinson eager to earn the spot.

Philosophically, a return to a more physical style on the line could be in order. With more inexperience up front than usual and a new quarterback under center, Kiffin might lean toward a run-heavy offense, especially early in the season. Establishing that proper mindset on the line early might be more important than finding who the starting five will be during spring practice.


Florida State backup quarterback Jacob Coker was granted his release from his scholarship and has already met with Alabama coach Nick Saban, sources told ESPN.com.

It's expected that Coker, a redshirt sophomore, will enroll at Alabama after graduating from Florida State this spring. That means the fight for replacing AJ McCarron just got a lot more interesting.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Jacob Coker
AP Photo/Phil SearsJameis Winston and Jacob Coker had a spirited duel to become Florida State's starting quarterback last summer.
McCarron's departure seemed to mean that junior Blake Sims and underclassmen Cooper Bateman, Alec Morris and Parker McLeod, along with incoming freshman David Cornwell, would lead the charge to becoming Alabama's new starting quarterback. Throw in Coker, who received rave reviews from his coaches and teammates -- even though he backed up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston for most of the season before suffering a knee injury in early November -- and the Crimson Tide should have an even tighter race to replace McCarron this fall.

The good news for Alabama is that with Coker pursuing a graduate degree, he would be eligible to compete for the starting job when he steps on campus. Coker threw for only 250 yards and an interception this past season, so the country hasn't seen much of him, though it's worth noting that he went step-for-step with Winston until the final week of fall camp. Remember, Winston won the Heisman last season.

While he doesn't have much of a college résumé, Coker's arrival in Tuscaloosa will add some experience to the quarterback competition. He'll be behind the rest of his competition when he arrives, which should push him even more during the offseason and fall camp. It might light an even bigger fire under the guys competing for the job this spring.

Here's what Florida State quarterback coach Randy Sanders told CBSSports.com about Coker:
"I've never had anybody with his size who throws it as well as he does. Jake has a really quick release with tremendous arm strength. Rarely does it not spiral or not go where he wants it to go."

Even with a logjam at quarterback, getting Coker is a win for the Tide. Replacing McCarron won't be easy, but this sort of addition should make it that much better for whichever quarterback wins the job.

Tide to-do list: Find a QB

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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Editor's note: This is Part I in a weeklong series looking at the five most pressing concerns Alabama faces this offseason.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Lane Kiffin's hiring as offensive coordinator at Alabama sent shockwaves through college football, and understandably so. How Nick Saban could call on one of the country's most divisive coaches in the downslide of his career was confounding. After all, it was only a few months ago that Kiffin was being mocked after he was called off USC's team bus to be told he was fired.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesLane Kiffin joins Alabama needing to find a new starting QB.
The moment seemed like the culmination of a career that rose swiftly and sputtered out just as quickly: first a renowned offensive mind under Pete Carroll at USC, then a surprising hire to lead the Oakland Raiders, a head coach at Tennessee and then back to the Trojans where his wild ride would conclude after 3 1/2 seasons.

Along the way, he upset many, most notably those in the South who saw him bail on the Vols after one turbulent season in which he went so far as to receive a public reprimand from SEC commissioner Mike Slive.

Now at a well-seasoned 38 years old, Kiffin has a chance to start over. Now all he has to do is coach.

But that job isn't as easy as it seems. There's a laundry list of to-dos between now and the start of the season at Alabama, and Kiffin is suddenly the man in charge of solving the No. 1 dilemma facing the Tide: find a starting quarterback.

To say Kiffin is behind the eight ball in that respect is an understatement. He may have been consulting Saban on campus for a week in mid-December, but he wasn't getting to know the quarterbacks at that time. He wasn't dissecting their throwing motions and he wasn't thinking ahead to the moment he might tweak their technique.

Chances are he had no idea who Blake Sims and Alec Morris were a week ago, and now they're his two most experienced quarterbacks on the roster.

To say Alabama hasn't developed a viable starting quarterback might be an understatement, too. Doug Nussmeier left as Alabama offensive coordinator in something of a hurry. Not only did he close his stint with two uninspiring losses, he also never firmly established who AJ McCarron's successor might be.

Saban would have you believe it's Sims, considering the comments he made during the last offseason, how he was listed No. 2 on the depth chart and how he indeed came on the field in those rare moments McCarron was allowed to rest on the bench. But Sims threw only 29 passes in 2013, connecting on 18. Even when Alabama thumped teams like Colorado State, Georgia State and Chattanooga, Sims had hardly any time to work on his often erratic throwing motion. That awkward heaving of the ball that led to three interceptions at last April's A-Day game may have improved with time, but there was no seeing it during the season.

At least Sims had more reps than Morris, though, as he didn't drop back to pass a single time in 2013. The big redshirt freshman from Texas got a few courtesy snaps late in games, but he was only there to hand the ball off and run out the clock. If he progressed during the season, it wasn't with game experience.

Really, Morris is in the same boat as Alabama's three other freshmen quarterbacks: Cooper Bateman, Luke Del Rio and Parker McLeod. None of the three attempted a pass during the season and none did much of anything during the scrimmages before the season to show they might be ready to take the helm.

We might as well throw David Cornwell in that mix. The newly minted college freshman arrived on campus only a few weeks ago after enrolling early. ESPN's evaluators thought so much of his arm to rank him as the No. 2 pocket passer in his class, but a knee injury cost him most of his senior season, so rust might be a factor.

The good news for the freshmen, sophomores and veterans alike is that everyone will get a clean slate under Kiffin, whose most-overlooked title at Alabama is that of quarterbacks coach. Implementing a quicker tempo and introducing new tweaks to the offensive game plan might be part of Kiffin's new job, but his most pressing duty is finding the next McCarron. Without someone reliable under center, Alabama won't be a team capable of competing for an SEC title.

If Kiffin can develop a successor worthy of McCarron's legacy, maybe he can start to rewrite his own resume. After all, it's a big job he's being asked to do at Alabama. If he nails it, both he and Saban will look awfully smart.
Alabama’s season might not have ended the way the Crimson Tide wanted -- and let’s face it, anything short of a national championship was going to be disappointing -- but they still finished 11-2.

Off the field, Alabama has continued its recruiting dominance in the 2014 cycle. The Crimson Tide currently have the No. 1 class and still have a chance to have a strong finish. With signing a month away, here’s a closer look where the Tide stand in recruiting.


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SEC lunchtime links

December, 26, 2013
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Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and some quality time with family and friends during the holiday. To get you back into the football mood, let's take a look at some of the headlines from around the league:

SEC recruiting storylines: Dec. 12 

December, 12, 2013
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Another wild week of recruiting in the SEC is in the rearview mirror. Today, the Florida Gators take center stage with all eyes on Alabama heading into the weekend of official visits before the dead period begins Dec. 16.

Gators nab one of the nation's best

No. 18 David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School) seemed to be a Florida lean for more than a year. After trips to Georgia twice during the season and official visits to Tennessee and Florida in November, the 6-foot-6, 288-pound four-star offensive tackle made it official Thursday, committing to the Gators.

Sharpe becomes the 17th commitment for head coach Will Muschamp and his staff, including the 10th ESPN 300 prospect to select the Gators.

Speaking of Florida, the final decision of No. 20-ranked Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) likely will come following the Rockets' state title game this weekend. Florida is fighting Florida State and Miami to keep the explosive playmaker.

Make it two for Thursday


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Alabama In Line For No. 1 Class ... Again
National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert breaks down the Crimson Tide's quest for a four-peat atop the ESPN Class Rankings.Tags: Mekhi Brown, Daylon Charlot, Nick Saban, Alabama Crimson Tide
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