They stood side by side on the Alabama practice field on the afternoon of Aug. 24, flinging 20-yard passes in 103° heat. Sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims each hit the hands of their respective receivers a dozen times in a row, every pass a textbook spiral.
The scene was revealing because the performance this spring and summer of the two potential starters at quarterback has been so even that coach Nick Saban is expected to play both against Kent State on Saturday and at Penn State on Sept. 10. Until either the 6' 4", 205-pound McCarron or the 6'2", 217-pound Sims takes the lead, Saban has a potentially slippery situation at a position that may be the biggest obstacle between the No. 2 Crimson Tide and a national title.
Saban isn't the only coach facing a quarterback quandary. Here are three other schools with QB battles that will affect their teams' fortunes.
Texas Garrett Gilbert was the most criticized player in Austin last season by a landslide, throwing more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (10) during the Horns' first losing season in 13 years. In the preseason Gilbert, now a junior, has been in a three-way chase with sophomore Case McCoy, the younger brother of Colt, and true freshman David Ash. Neither McCoy nor Ash has the physical tools that Gilbert has. But McCoy, like his brother, excels in the short passing game, and Ash has quickly picked up the offense.
Though Gilbert is the favorite to start on Saturday against Rice, the competition figures to last well into the year.
Penn State The race for the starter's job has been too close to call. Sophomore Rob Bolden, a former four-star recruit, has more natural ability than senior Matt McGloin, a former walk-on, but the latter is a capable game manager. The edge, for now, goes to the 6'3", 216-pound Bolden, whose arm is so strong that quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno says he can "put [the ball] anywhere on the field."
Notre Dame Last season Dayne Crist was 4--5 as a starter, while Tommy Rees was 4--0. But last week coach Brian Kelly picked Crist, a senior, to start over Rees, a sophomore. Why? In camp the more experienced Crist showed enough mobility to assure Kelly that he's completely recovered from the ruptured patella tendon in his left knee that cut short his 2010 season. But make no mistake: Rees, who is the more accurate passer, will see action if Crist flounders.
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BILL FRAKES (MCCARRON)
SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT The QB questions at Alabama, with McCarron (top), and Texas, with McCoy (above left) and Gilbert, may persist well into the season.
JOHN RIVERA/ICON SMI (MCCOY AND GILBERT)
[See caption above]