If Nick Saban names Jalen Hurts Alabama’s starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Blake Barnett has to leave for the sake of his career.
With the 2016 season inching closer and closer, teams around the country with a quarterback competition are beginning to name their starters. Well, almost everywhere. In Tuscaloosa, the reigning national champions seem to have a three-man battle between Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts. And it’s a battle that has been brewing since the end of the spring. The problem with this situation is that if Hurts continues to inch closer in this race, Barnett needs to start thinking about his future and the idea of transferring away from Alabama.
I wrote back in April, shortly before A-Day, that Barnett had been a bit of a disappointment throughout the spring as he continued to be turnover-prone. Like a lot of people, I thought Bateman had a firm grasp on the starting job, with David Cornwell and Barnett behind Bateman on the depth chart. I didn’t even mention Hurts for the simple reason that I didn’t think the freshman actually had a chance of starting. Fast-forward to August and Hurts is in the conversation. That could be a huge problem for Barnett.
Barnett, who was a five-star quarterback coming out of high school in the Los Angeles area, has the size and skill set. Depending on who you ask, he has been a big favorite of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. But Barnett continues to be turnover-prone, and that doesn’t sit well with Nick Saban. Hurts has continued to edge closer to the lead pack and neither Bateman nor Barnett has done much to pull away. Bateman, a junior, started last season against Ole Miss. Jake Coker stepped in after Bateman struggled and won over the team in the loss, largely because Coker was the better quarterback.
Now, even though most think it’s Bateman’s job to lose, that actually might be happening. Bateman’s arm strength has been a big cause for concern, and while Barnett has the physical tools, he simply isn’t winning anyone over. Now, with Hurts being a continued talking point in Tuscaloosa and multiple outlets reporting that Hurts is even winning over his teammates, Barnett is not just losing his footing in the starting race but as the No. 2 man as well.
Even after the spring, the idea of Barnett as the backup wasn’t that surprising to me. Saban has a certain way he goes about things as it pertains to his starters. The next-man-up mentality echoes throughout the team and it always seems to work, even with his quarterbacks. Saban values quarterbacks with knowledge and experience in his system. Even Coker sat as a backup in his first year with the Tide, as he was in a quarterback competition with the more experienced Blake Sims in 2014. Had Alabama's defense done its job against Ohio State, Sims would have had one of the most memorable single seasons in Alabama history.
A true freshman quarterback never has started in the Saban era at Alabama. In nine years and with countless No. 1 recruiting classes, not one quarterback has come in as a freshman and won the starting job. That Hurts is not only competing but may actually get the nod over Bateman and Barnett is truly a testament to his talent - and the flaws of the other two.
Thus, if Hurts wins the job, Barnett needs to think about transferring to save his football future. Falling behind Bateman on the depth chart is one thing - he would have another year under Kiffin, one of the best quarterback coaches in college football. But dropping behind Bateman and Hurts is another. As mentioned, Saban has a nine-year track record of using everything but a true freshman. Sometimes, things just don’t work out, and guys may need to go somewhere else in order to succeed.
Barnett not meshing well in Tuscaloosa isn’t a knock on anyone involved. If Barnett is jumped by Hurts on the depth chart, moving on is probably best for everyone. From what I’ve seen with my own eyes and heard from many other observers, Hurts is only going to get better - and Barnett is only going to get more frustrated as a backup. The truth is some guys are just more talented and better-suited for the job. Maybe Barnett does become the starter and has a great Alabama career, but that’s simply not how this situation is trending at the moment. And if Hurts continues to trend upward, Barnett needs to look elsewhere if he wants to become a starter.
(You can follow Justin Nails on Twitter @justinnails)
© 2016, Justin Nails. All rights reserved.
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