It has become an annual ritual for Jay Barker, the quarterback and spiritual leader of the Crimson Tide. He spends much of the off-season scouring the state of Alabama, selling the masses on the verities of the Good Book. He then returns to campus in August to convert the football faithful on another urgent matter: his ability as a quarterback. "This year is no different from any other," says Barker, who did not take any snaps in spring practice because he was recovering from a knee injury. "I guess I still have something to prove to some people."
That's hard to imagine. In three seasons Barker is 23-1-1 as a starter. Last year he completed 57% of his passes and threw for 1,525 yards despite missing two games because of a shoulder injury. The question is whether, in his final autumn in Tuscaloosa, he is more capable of leading the Tide than junior Brian Burgdorf, whom coach Gene Shillings anointed the No. 1 quarterback after Burgdorf performed impressively in the spring. Says Barker, "No way do I feel I won't be the starter."
In any event, yawning holes pock the rest of the offense. David Palmer, who accounted for more than 35% of Alabama's all-purpose yardage last year, is gone, and this Gump kid, said to be the most arresting athletic specimen since Sidd Finch, hasn't shown.
Most uncertain, however, is the amount of latitude Stallings will give new offensive coordinator Homer Smith, who will try to usher the "Bama offense into the 21st century. Although the two have already clashed, Stallings promises harmony by the season opener. "Just remember," Stallings says slyly, "that the assistant coach can do no more than the head coach will let him."
Still, a soft schedule and a steely defense should guarantee the Tide a third straight trip to the SFC title game. And what are the chances of a second national championship in three seasons? This question was posed at one of Barker's speaking engagements: "Jay, does the Lord see Alabama winning the national championship?" Replied Barker, "He hasn't told me."
Thanks to a swarming defense, the Crimson Tide will roll on.