April 13, 2013; Tallahassee, FL, USA; Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jacob Coker (14) during the first half of the spring game at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Why Alabama QB Jacob Coker is the biggest wild card in college football

Alabama has a significant question at quarterback as they begin the 2014 college football season, so can Jacob Coker be the answer for the Crimson Tide?

For the first time since the 2011 season, Alabama has to find a new quarterback after three-year starter AJ McCarron exhausted his eligibility and was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. The competition is between fifth-year senior Blake Sims and Coker, the much-hyped transfer from the Florida State Seminoles.

Prior to even announcing his transfer from the Seminoles, where Coker narrowly was edged out by Jameis Winston for the starting job for the national champions, the widespread assumption was that Coker would be transferring to his home state and would be the unquestioned starter for the Tide in 2014.

The praise for Coker first came from ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. who ranked Coker as No. 5B on his list of underclassmen at the position for the 2015 draft last June.

“He nearly beat out (Jameis) Winston to start at Florida State, and is the favorite to be the starter for Nick Saban’s team in 2014. Coker moves well, has a big arm and, if he starts, will have big-time weapons in wide receiver Amari Cooper and tight end O.J. Howard.”

Thus the hype train began to pick up steam with the blessing from the longtime talent evaluator. At 6-5, 230-pounds, Coker possesses the prototypical size NFL teams covet from a quarterback and the big arm to make the requisite throws. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect about his game is his ability to extend and make plays with his feet.

Sept 8, 2012; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Florida State quarterback Jacob Coker (14) throws the ball against Savannah State. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

He had not even practiced once with Alabama and all we had seen of Coker was limited snaps in mop up duty with the Seminoles. He was the biggest mystery in sports. He was the present waiting under the Christmas tree, but you didn’t know if that big box was full of ugly sweaters or a shiny new toy.

His former coach at Florida State paints the picture of Coker being the latter and the hype for Coker reached new heights after Jimbo Fisher said Coker would be the most talented quarterback Alabama has had in the Saban tenure.

“Including what they’ve had, he’s much more talented than anything they’ve had,” he told TideSports.com. “I don’t mean to discredit the previous guys, they were all great. But this guy is extremely talented. Arm and mind. He’s a backup because he’s behind the best quarterback in America. (Coker) may have been one of the top three or four quarterbacks in America physically.”

You wouldn’t expect his former coach to have anything negative to say about a model student and player, would you?

Of course not, but the lengths he went to praise Coker raised more than a few eyebrows across the state of Alabama and the college football world.

With the lofty praise from Kiper and Fisher one would expect Coker would be the clear-cut starter for Alabama when they kick off the season on August 30 against West Virginia, right?

I think sometimes Jake is still trying to feel his way. He made some real significant strides in practice this week and had some really good practices.”

Not so fast my friend.

Coker has struggled a bit in fall scrimmages after going through a crash course of trying to digest Lane Kiffin’s playbook and hasn’t played up to the level you would come to expect from the scouting reports from Kiper and Fisher.

Both played an equal number of reps with the starters and each had their moments, but Saban said after Saturday’s scrimmage, “Until somebody clearly wins the job, we’re not going to make a decision.”

Passing statistics weren’t kept as Saban has grown tired of asking questions about the ongoing quarterback battle, but Saban said that Sims is playing faster and Coker is still trying to figure things out.

“I do think Blake probably is playing a little faster right now,” Saban said via Marq Burnett of The Anniston Star. “(He has) been in the system longer, has a better understanding, has a little bit more rhythm. I think sometimes Jake is still trying to feel his way. He made some real significant strides in practice this week and had some really good practices.”

The last time Saban had a quarterback battle on his hands was that 2011 season when McCarron and Phillip Sims continued their preseason battle in to the first two weeks of the season after each threw a pair of interceptions in the opener against Kent State.

Could Alabama go with a two-quarterback system for the first three weeks against the Mountaineers, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss?

I wouldn’t rule it out, but Saban would likely prefer not to go that route, even against a trio of teams Alabama could defeat by handing the ball off every single play with their deep stable of running backs.

The job is there for the taking and Coker by all accounts is the more talented of the two options and represents the greater upside. If Coker can’t live up to the billing and Sims wins the job, the season could resemble the 10-3 season of 2010

No bigger wild card exists in college football than Coker who has the weight of Alabama’s championship expectations resting on his right arm.

Tags: Alabama Crimson Tide Jacob Coker NCAA Football

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