The Alabama QB competition was already the most interesting in college football. And that was before junior Jalen Hurts spoke honestly about his dissatisfaction with how the process has played out on Saturday.
So where do things go from here? We brought together a panel of experts to break it all down.
How has coach Nick Saban handled the QB controversy this offseason?
Andrea Adelson: Hurts' comments Saturday tell you everything you need to know about the way Nick Saban has handled it. When you open practice, and the quarterback who has led your team to a 26-2 record, including two national championship game appearances, goes on a mini-tirade, then you know Saban could have handled this situation much better. How often do we see Alabama players going off script the way Hurts did, deviating from the carefully cultivated messaging that defines the Saban program? It rarely happens, so that is a clear indication that Saban and his staff could have gotten a better gauge on how Hurts has handled everything that has happened since he was benched against Georgia.
Joel Anderson: If Saban and the Alabama coaching staff truly haven't made a decision internally, then it appears he's done about the most he can do.
He let Tagovailoa and Hurts compete in the spring until Tagovailoa got hurt -- the only fair thing to do, at that point. He has done his best to show no hint of favoritism to either quarterback heading into the fall. And he has predictably been careful in his comments about the players to media. Players usually can appreciate a fair competition, and if anything else, Saban is known for letting the best players play.
But there's a strong sense that Saban is delaying the inevitable, that he's going to go with the younger and more talented Tagovailoa. And if that's the case, then that's not particularly fair to Hurts, who has been nothing but a loyal (and productive) trooper since he arrived in Tuscaloosa.
Edward Aschoff: He handled it as Nick Saban would. I think it was fine, but I do think when he said he wasn't sure whether Hurts was going to be in camp or not that he put the spotlight squarely on his quarterback, and it clearly upset him. But let's not act like Saban has been put in the best position with all of this when you consider that both Tagovailoa and Hurts' dad both mentioned the word "transfer."
What do Hurts' comments on Saturday mean going forward?
Adelson: It means Hurts does not want to go down without a fight, and why should he? As Hurts says, he has done everything that has been asked of him as the Alabama quarterback, and that includes swallowing whatever emotions he felt after he got benched and supporting all of his teammates, including Tagovailoa. Hurts drew widespread praise for the way he handled a really difficult situation, yet the entire discussion during the offseason has focused on whether he would even stick around for this season. Granted, his father did not help the situation when he insinuated in April that Hurts might transfer if he was not named the starter. But there is a reason for frustration: Nobody at Alabama has given Hurts and his family clear answers on where the competition stands, and they clearly believe they are owed more than that.
Alex Scarborough: It just shows how much this has been bothering him all offseason. If anything, he's typically quiet and doesn't say much to the media. For him to come out publicly and say what he did, he had to think it through. Oddly enough, I think by getting this off his chest and letting everyone know where he stands, I think it is his way of moving on and focusing on the competition.
Mark Schlabach: I think it diminishes Hurts' chances of winning the starting job, which were pretty small to begin with. Saban doesn't like having outspoken players (or assistant coaches), and I think Hurts probably crossed that line.
Is there a chance Hurts beats out Tagovailoa for the job?
Adelson: At this point, Saban has said repeatedly they are in an ongoing competition. Even Hurts has no idea where he stands. What is fascinating is how some people view Hurts as some sort of also-ran who cannot play quarterback. Does he have flaws? Absolutely. But he would have been a hero in the 2017 national championship game for the way he led Alabama back in the fourth quarter if not for Deshaun Watson leading his own miraculous drive on the other side for Clemson. Hurts does not have the arm that Tagovailoa has, but he has more experience, and he has won more games. Why not give him a fair shot to win the starting job?
Anderson: Likely only if Tagovailoa gets hurt or suspended. At this point, it's clear: Tagovailoa has the tools and moxie to take advantage of all those four- and five-star recruits at the skill positions. With Hurts, unless there's been some incredible development over the past few months, the Alabama offense is limited and easier for elite defenses to defend.
Aschoff: Hurts is 26-2 as Alabama's starter. He helped take the Tide to the national championship as a true freshman. He has thrown 40 touchdowns to 10 interceptions in two seasons and was 1 yard short last year of throwing for 700 more yards than he did as a freshman. Tagovailoa has played one impressive -- although flawed -- second half of football in a national championship. Tagovailoa might have the better arm and accuracy, but I'm not sold on Hurts being out of this by any means. I still think it's even.
Scarborough: Tagovailoa is certainly the favorite, but Hurts is in the competition. You can't discount his experience, of course, with a 26-2 record. But he's also talented. It's not as if he won SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a true freshman on accident.
If Tagovailoa wins the job, what does Hurts do?
Anderson: At this point, it seems most likely Hurts will stay through at least the first four games of this season and, if he's not able to crack the lineup, take a redshirt per the new NCAA rule. That would give him the ability to preserve another year of eligibility, graduate in December and transfer somewhere else where he can play immediately.
And yeah, though he's not perfect, he'll be in high demand on the open college quarterback market, as his father said earlier this year.
Aschoff: He said he's intent on staying in Tuscaloosa and graduating in December, regardless of whether he's the starter or not. For now, I'll take him at his word. But there's danger with waiting. If he plays only four games, he can transfer immediately and not lose a year of eligibility, which is huge. But if he stays and there's a chance that he could play beyond four, he could lose that year. There's risk on both sides because he could flip the script and possibly be the Tua Tagovailoa of this season if he stays. I think he does, but I don't think he's back in Tuscaloosa in 2019.
Scarborough: He'll stay through December, graduate and leave with two years of eligibility. And many, many coaches will be hoping he's interested in joining their team.
How do you think Saban will react to Hurts' comments?
Adelson: Either this gets Saban's attention and he has a sit-down with Hurts and they hash everything out and agree for Hurts to keep his feelings to himself for the good of the team, or Saban declares Hurts off limits to the media for the rest of the season and blows his top. Saban has the ultimate control in this situation, and if he doesn't appreciate the way Hurts spoke out on Saturday, then he can decide how to shape the quarterback competition. Needless to say, Saban is going to be upset that this distraction has only grown larger, and it's not because Hurts' dad spoke. It's because Hurts did.
Anderson: I struggle to think of any Saban player, non-Miami Dolphins division, who has publicly challenged or even questioned the way he handled his team or program while still on the roster. So you'd have to imagine he won't respond kindly to this missive from Hurts. Woe unto the poor assistant who had to tell him about those comments.
But one thing about it: Hurts, unlike most other college football players, has some leverage. He's accomplished. He's talented. He has represented Alabama well since day one. He's a coach's son, so his character and maturity can't be easily impugned. And most importantly, he has options.
Hurts can leave town as soon as he's ready, which is why Saban has been belaboring all of the chatter about his potential transfer. Likely, Saban will have to swallow this publicly and do something he hasn't done much of in Tuscaloosa: take the L.
Schlabach: I don't think Saban will say much about it publicly, but I'm pretty sure Hurts will hear about it behind closed doors. Saban can't be happy.