How first-year starters have fared at quarterback during Nick Saban's time with Alabama football

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

There’s no shortage of anticipation to see what quarterback Bryce Young can do for the Crimson Tide.

After seeing limited time in cleanup duty as a freshman in 2020, Young has the opportunity to prove himself in a much greater role over the course of his sophomore season with Alabama’s starting quarterback spot open.

He’s projected to be the starter when the Crimson Tide play at Miami to open the 2021 season on Sept. 4. He’s a former five-star recruit, so expectations are anything but low. But that doesn’t mean he will play immaculately right away.

What’s realistic for him this season? Alabama first-year starting quarterbacks in the past under coach Nick Saban might offer a glimpse of Young's future.  

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Here’s a look at how each one fared in their first season as a starter, defined as a quarterback who served as QB1 for at least half the season. It’s not the season in which a quarterback first saw game action or received a start. So, players such as Blake Barnett and Cooper Bateman are not included.

Greg McElroy

Season: 2009

Passing stats: Completed 198 of 325 pass attempts (60.9%) for 2,508 yards, 17 touchdowns, four interceptions and a long of 80 yards.

Rushing stats: 54 attempts for 83 yards, a 1.5 average, and one touchdown.

Record: 14-0

National championship: Yes

AJ McCarron

Season: 2011

Passing stats: Completed 219 of 328 pass attempts (66.8%) for 2,634 yards, 16 touchdowns, five interceptions and a long of 69 yards.

Rushing stats: 30 attempts for -22 yards, a -0.7 average, and two touchdowns.

Record: 12-1 (Only loss to LSU 9-6 in OT, which he avenged 21-0 in national championship game)

National championship: Yes

Blake Simms

Season: 2014

Passing stats: Completed 252 of 391 pass attempts (64.5%) for 3,487 yards, 28 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a long of 87 yards.

Rushing stats: 83 attempts for 350 yards, a 4.2 average, and seven touchdowns.

Record: 12-2 (Loss to Ole Miss 23-17 and Ohio State 42-35)

National championship: No

Jake Coker

Season: 2015

Passing stats: Completed 263 of 393 pass attempts (66.9%) for 3,110 yards, 21 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a long of 81 yards.

Rushing stats: 74 attempts for 68 yards, a 0.9 average, and two touchdowns.

Record: 14-1 (*Loss to Ole Miss 43-37)

National championship: Yes

*Coker didn’t get the start against Ole Miss, but he entered in the second quarter.

Jalen Hurts

Season: 2016

Passing stats: Completed 240 of 382 pass attempts (62.8%) for 2,780 yards, 23 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a long of 71 yards.

Rushing stats: 191 attempts for 954 yards, a 5.0 average, and 13 touchdowns.

Record: 14-1 (Loss to Clemson 35-31 in national championship)

National championship: No

Tua Tagovailoa

Season: 2018

Passing stats: Completed 245 of 355 pass attempts (69.0%) for 3,966 yards, 43 touchdowns, six interceptions and a long of 81 yards.

Rushing stats: 57 attempts for 190 yards, a 3.3 average, and two touchdowns.

Record: 14-1 (Lost to Clemson 44-16 in national championship)

National championship: No*

*Tagovailoa won a national championship when he took over for Hurts the season prior, but that was not his first full season as a starter.

Mac Jones

Season: 2020

Passing stats: Completed 311 of 402 pass attempts (77.36%) for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, four interceptions and a long of 90 yards.

Rushing stats: 35 attempts for 14 yards, a 0.4 average, with one touchdown.

Record: 13-0

National championship: Yes

National champion QBs under Saban in first year starting

Four of the seven quarterbacks who fit this criteria during the Saban era won national championships in their first full seasons as starters.

Stat leaders

Here’s the leader in each category, from McElroy to Jones:

Completion percentage: Jones (77.36%)

Passing yards: Jones (4,500)

Passing touchdowns: Tagovailoa (43)

Fewest interceptions: Jones and McElroy (four)

Longest pass: Jones (90 yards)

Rushing yards: Hurts (954)

Rushing touchdowns: Hurts (13)

Jones and McCarron played in the fewest games (13), which makes some of Jones’ statistics even more remarkable.

Where Young falls among this group remains to be seen, but with the offensive evolution in which Alabama has taken part the past few years, his numbers will likely be more similar to the latter half of these quarterbacks.