2011 is a new year for the Alabama Crimson Tide. A chance to start over with a clean slate and get back to work after a disappointing 2010 season that saw the defending national champions stumble to a 10-3 record that included losses to Steve Spurrier, Les Miles, and a blown 24-point lead against their bitter rival.
And easily the most asked and most debated question in Alabama this summer and into the fall has been, "Who's gonna be our quarterback this year?" The quarterback is arguably the most important position in all of sports, and in a state where the Alabama quarterback is more recognizable than the governor, it makes sense that the question has been thrown around so often on talk radio and online message boards. Fans want to know who "the guy" is going to be and whether he is capable of leading them to the promise land.
But my answer to that question is this: Who cares?
If Nick Saban could cook up the perfect quarterback to run his offense, I believe it would be Greg McElroy. In 2009, McElroy's job was to simply not screw things up, and he did that job perfectly. You hate to throw around the term "game manager," but that's exactly the type of player McElroy was. He had to lead one drive against Auburn to win the Iron Bowl, and played the game of his life in the SEC Championship Game, but outside of that, all McElroy really had to do was hand the ball off to Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, throw short to mid-range passes with the occasional rainbow to Julio Jones, and not turn the ball over. And that's all Phillip Sims or AJ McCarron is going to have to do next year.
Here are a few things we definitely know about the 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide:
This will be one of the most emotional seasons in school history. Between the complete meltdown that was the 2010 Iron Bowl, the tragic tornadoes that struck Tuscaloosa on April 27th, and the death of Aaron Douglas, this team should not be short on motivation. America will see a hungry, angry football team playing not only for each other, but for an entire city and state.
The defense will be good. Really good. Returning 10 of 11 starters from a unit that was one of the best in the country last year, Alabama's defense will be loaded. The entire starting secondary all have a chance to be first-round picks;Nico Johnson, Courtney Upshaw, and Dont'a Hightower are all veterans anchoring the middle of the field; and the defensive line, while they lost Marcel Dareus, is loaded with talent. The Capitol One Bowl showed what that defense is capable of when they put together a complete game, and that's not good news for the rest of the country.
Trent Richardson is a monster. Even in his freshman year, many thought Richardson was the better back between him and Mark Ingram. Last year, when Ingram sat out the first two games with a knee injury, Richardson started in his place and showed what he's capable of doing. He'll get a full workload this year, and will more than likely contend for the Heisman trophy.
Which brings us back to the quarterback situation. AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims are both talented players, there's no question about that. McCarron and Sims were both highly recruited out of high-school and four stars according to Rivals. But, with the team around them that's seemingly loaded at every position, none of them will have to be heroes this year. All they have to do is not screw things up. Do you see a theme here?
It doesn't matter who can throw the farthest, who put up what numbers in high school, or who has the fastest 40-yard dash time. All that matters is that they don't lose games for their team. McElroy did that in '09 and it got them a championship. So should fans really so concerned with who starts? I say no. Alabama doesn't need the guy who can make the big play, but rather the one who can avoid the big play the other way. And if whoever eventually gets the job does that, Alabama will be just fine in 2011.