Barring injuries, we now know exactly how the Alabama quarterback situation is going to play out. I’ll fill you in on my theory about that immediately after hammering the NCAA for another decision made without consulting the people who will be most impacted, and thus in the best position to offer insight on the situation.
The old rule for redshirting stated that a player had five years to play four seasons. If he played one play during a season, that counted as one of his four years of eligibility. But if he sat out the entire season, he would maintain that year of eligibility.
The new rule allows players to play in up to four games and still use that season as a redshirt. So, conceivably, every player is now eligible to play four full seasons plus four games in another season before running out of eligibility.
If players are going to be allowed to participate during five seasons, the simple answer is to allow all players five years to play five full seasons. With that, the word “redshirt” would mercifully be removed from the lexicon of college sports.
Five years to play five seasons would benefit players, fans, coaches and schools. To state it clearly, there is simply no benefit for anyone in these new guidelines compared to the five years to play play five seasons model.
But the NCAA doesn’t operate in a manner that allows that kind of input.
So, here’s what’s going to happen with the Alabama quarterback position that now includes junior Jalen Hurts and sophomore Tua Tagovailoa as co-starters and redshirt freshman Mac Jones as the third player in line.
Hurts and Tagovailoa will play roughly the same number of snaps in the opener against Louisville in Orlando. When this game was scheduled, it seemed it might be an exciting matchup. But with Lamar Jackson off to the NFL, there’s little suspense about how this game is going to go. Alabama is a 30-point favorite for a reason. While Louisville still has some offensive weapons, the defense won’t put up much resistance, regardless of who’s quarterbacking the Tide.
So, both players will be impressive, so much so that the talk will heat up about Alabama running a two-quarterback system all season.
Next will come a 40-point win at home against Arkansas State when both Hurts and Tagovailoa look good. Even Jones will get his first playing time.
Then comes the Sept. 15 SEC opener on the road against Ole Miss. This is when the Alabama season will be defined. Going into the game, Alabama will have two quarterbacks leading the team. But when they step on the field in Oxford, Tagovailoa will be the unquestioned leader. If Hurts plays at all it will be in a very limited capacity. Alabama will have to score at least 28 points to win and the Tide will do so behind its most talented quarterback.
The Sept. 22 home game against Texas A&M will be a test for the Tide after dealing with all the noise around the program that Hurts is considering transferring. This is where Averion Hurts, the father and high school coach of Jalen, will insert himself into the narrative again.
Averion has already made headlines this offseason with the comment that his son would be the biggest free agent in college football history if he decided to transfer. At this point in the season, it’s becoming crystal clear that we’re going to find out if he’s right.
Hurts will play a limited role against Texas A&M and that’s how his career at Alabama will end. Having played in four games, he will still maintain his option to redshirt.
Hurts will remain with the team as an emergency option until he graduates in December and transfers to a new school with two years to play seasons at his new destination. The most intriguing and tricky part of this is if Tagovailoa is injured during the final eight games of the season. At that point, Hurts would have to decide if he was willing to burn his redshirt year (not likely) or simply refuse to play again before graduating.
When Alabama heads off to the postseason — whether that be the College Football Playoff as expected or simply a bowl game — Hurts will already be at his new school preparing for his next challenge.
I’m sure nobody thought this awkward scenario through before changing the rule that allows players to redshirt even after playing in four games. It’s certainly not ideal.
But it does open the possibility that former Alabama center Brandon Kennedy will be snapping the ball to Hurts when they lead the Tennessee Volunteers into Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2019.
If the NCAA was trying to create drama and chaos with this new transfer rule, then the Tennessee Volunteers being led by a quarterback who won a national championship ring and played two and a half seasons at rival Alabama would be the perfect embodiment of that goal.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday, 3-6 p.m., on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.