Following in the footsteps of a legend is a difficult procedure. Yet in the last thirty years, history reminds us that some transitions have been easier than others. Aaron Rodgers supplanted Brett Favre with almost no difficulty; Andrew Luck is well on his way to a stellar career after replacing arguably the greatest quarterback of this generation; and 20+ years ago a man named Steve Young filled the shoes of a guy affectionately known as "Joe Cool."
It's no secret to fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide, or of college football, that the program has been on an historic run since 2008. In that time, the boys from Tuscaloosa, Alabama have made it to the SEC Championship Game three times, with two victories in two spirited contests at the Georgia Dome. Additionally, they won three BCS National Championships in 2010, 2012, and 2013, disposing of Texas, LSU, and Notre Dame with almost no scars on their face. It's one of the most remarkable runs in college football history, up there with the 1980s and early 2000's Miami teams that were rich with NFL talent and the mid-1990s Nebraska Cornhuskers armed with the incomparable Tommie Frazier.
Like most good things though, they all come to an end. And last season, it was a bitter, bitter end. The most memorable moment of the season, and perhaps one of the sport's most memorable in its long, storied history, catapulted the Crimson Tide's most hated rival into the SEC Championship Game and eventually college football's biggest stage in Pasadena, California. What it also did was effectively snuff out any chance for Alabama to join elite company in winning back-to-back-to-back National Championships.
Somewhere, Tom Emanski surely wept.
Following the Tide's miserable performance in the Sugar Bowl, it was time to say goodbye to one of the program's most accomplished players. And now, one man looks to fill the cleats of one of the most accomplished QBs in Tide history.
That man is Jacob Coker, and he's the next man up.
What Was Left Behind
Whether you loved, or like most, hated Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, you certainly could respect the heavy lifting he did. Hardly wavering under pressure, McCarron strong-armed the Crimson Tide to a near-pristine record of 36-4 in three seasons as a starting quarterback. Though he did not completely carry the team, and it would be foolish to ignore the stupendous dossier of talent surrounding the Mobile, Alabama native, the quarterback position carries the most scrutiny of any in the game. And when asked, A.J. delivered.
He certainly had some noteworthy statistics as well. This especially after offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier took the reigns of the offense in the wake of the departure of then-offensive coordinator Jim McElwain. McElwain, a coach who began his career at Eastern Washington University, with stops at Montana State, Louisville, Michigan State, Fresno State and even an NFL appearance with the Oakland Raiders began his career as Alabama's offensive coordinator in 2008. Interestingly enough, that's exactly when the Tide began to roll through their adversaries in dominant fashion.
It's safe to say though that the offense exploded under Nussmeier. And so did McCarron. He trended upwards in nearly every single category from 2011 to 2012. Here's a quick look at some notable numbers:
It's not everyday that you say this type of ascension. There was merely a jump in 299 in yards, but in yards per attempt, touchdowns and INT%, the leaps (or declines, in the case of INT%) were simply astronomical. It's true that McCarron threw less attempts in 2012 (314) but that makes throwing for more yards that much more impressive. There was a clear level of improvement in his progressions from 2011 to 2012 under Nussmeier. And McCarron can certainly thank him for that.
Last season, McCarron's INT% jumped way up to 2.08% which perhaps indicated that his interception rate was simply not sustainable. Which is hard to argue against. But McCarron still threw for more yards, eclipsing the 3,000-yard mark, and threw the highest completion percentage of his collegiate career (67.6 percent) and the highest passing yards per game (248.5) in his three seasons as a starter as well.
Coker, needless to say, has some big cleats to fill.
What Coker Brings to the Table
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said all you need to know about Jacob Coker. While taking part in an interview with TideSports.com, Coker told the website, "Including what they've had, he's much more talented than anything they've had. I don't mean to discredit the previous guys, they were all great. But this guy is extremely talented. Arm and mind."
High praise, to say the very least.
When you consider the fact, as Fisher alludes to later on in the interview that Coker sitting behind 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston is the only reason Coker was not starting for the Seminoles, it paints a pretty picture for Crimson Tide fans to think about. Hardly anybody whose mascot wasn't a duck or an elephant, or wasn't making money-related gestures under center was as stellar as Winston was in 2013.
Can you imagine, for a second, if Coker brings what Winston brought for the Seminoles -- and possibly even more
Coker was merely a three-star recruit from Mobile, Alabama (sound familiar?) when he signed his letter of intent with the Seminoles in 2010. It's clear to see though that the young man has made serious enough progressions to land those compliments from his now former coach.
Considering Coker can only play for one more season after graduating from Florida State University, the expectations for Coker in Tuscaloosa may be higher than they would for an incoming freshman. It's important to note however that most of the Tide's offensive weapons are returning in 2014. Amari Cooper, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry are just a few players who will give Alabama a stout offensive unit in 2014.
Additionally, you might remember that Doug Nussmeier is now at Michigan. The man who replaced him? The much maligned Lane Kiffin. Say what you will about him though, Kiffin has been noted to be a terrific play caller and a sound offensive mind.
It will be an interesting season in Tuscaloosa as they look to come back off of a memorable yet devastating end to their historic run. Should things play out, Jacob Coker could be the man to give them immediate success. Maybe not to the degree of McCarron, but enough to possibly back up his former coach's praise.