Alabama Quarterback Competition is More Nick Saban Handiwork than Lane Kiffin

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The 2014 season is looming, and No. 2-ranked Alabama appears no closer to naming a successor to three-year starter and two-time national champion A.J. McCarron than it was in the spring.

Those who had trepidation about the hiring of Lane Kiffin to replace Doug Nussmeier as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator might be one step closer to validation.

Michael Lev of the Orange County Register tweeted Wednesday that Alabama might play both Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker in the Tide’s opener against West Virginia.

Last year at this time, Kiffin had a quarterback battle brewing at USC between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek. Not comfortable selecting a winner–or perhaps pushing back against the apparent leader–Kiffin played both in the Trojans’ first two games.

A lackluster performance at Hawaii was followed by a downright anemic showing in USC’s 10-7 loss to Washington State. The latter was central in Kiffin’s firing just three weeks later.

Since his arrival last spring, some have treated Coker’s winning the Alabama quarterback competition as a foregone conclusion. USA Today included him among its top 10 Heisman Trophy contenders.

I’d be remiss if i didn’t mention that yours truly is guilty of putting the cart before the horse–or the quarterback before the depth chart–as it pertains to the Alabama quarterback competition.

The overly eager anticipation is justifiable. Jimbo Fisher gushed when discussing Coker’s ability to lead the Crimson Tide. Per Mark Heim of AL.com:

He’s a tremendous human being. As an athlete, he is a tremendous player. I think he is going to be a very high draft pick in the NFL. He has that type of potential.

Mention of Blake Sims has been mostly an afterthought, but the understudy to McCarron last season is moving more into the forefront as the season approaches.

Wide receiver Chris Black offered praise of both quarterbacks to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. He touted Coker’s arm strength, but mentioned Sims as taking on a leadership role.

“[Sims has] definitely improved a lot. He’s more focused, being way more vocal, really stepping up as a leader, kind of trying to take control of the offense.”

Black also told Gribble something else that’s particularly noteworthy about the Alabama quarterback competition:

“It’s a tough decision. I’ll leave that up to Coach [Nick] Saban,” he said.

While memories of Kiffin’s questionable handling of the Kessler-Wittek dynamic linger, the offensive coordinator isn’t likely to make the ultimate call. He is an assistant to the most successful coach in college football now, after all.

And you definitely won’t hear Kiffin discuss the competition. The mystery in which USC’s quarterback battle was shrouded was genuine indecision; that become abundantly clear when the Trojans played tag team with the position through the first two weeks.

It’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to imagine a head coach as meticulous as Saban allowing the same kind of chaos that followed USC through the first month of the 2013 season.

Never one known for his candor, Saban’s silence really isn’t all that surprising. The fingerprints on the “ongoing” Alabama quarterback competition are more his than they are Lane Kiffin’s.