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Top 10 Alabama Preseason QB Battles of Post-Bear Bryant Era

AJ McCarron

AJ McCarron

For two years in a row now, Alabama's starting quarterback job has been hot topic No. 1 throughout August's preseason practices.

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Related: Ranking All 128 College Football Starting Quarterbacks for 2015

With Jake Coker, the guy many figure to get first crack under center this Saturday when No. 3 Alabama meets No. 20 Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, set to begin his final season at Alabama, there's a good possibility the Crimson Tide could be dealing with a third-straight starting quarterback quandary next fall.

Yes, it's beginning to feel like an annual preseason storyline now, but headline-making quarterback battles haven't always consumed Augusts in Tuscaloosa. In the post-Bear Bryant era, which began in 1983, there have been a number of seasons in which Alabama coaches, players and fans knew exactly who the guy under center would be when the season got under way.

And those other seasons? Yes, there have been several of those too during the post-Bear Bryant era — 2014 and 2015 being two of those. So where do Alabama's preseason quarterback battles of 2014 and 2015 rank among the other speculation-laden preseason quarterback battles that have taken place in Tuscaloosa since Alabama's legendary coach with the houndstooth hat called it a career? 

Glad you asked.

Here's my top 10:

1. Andrew Zow vs. Tyler Watts, 2001

As far as preseason Alabama quarterback battles in the post-Bear Bryant era, the most hotly-contested, most heavily-debated, most scrutinized and the one most filled with mystery and speculation has to be the Tyler Watts-Andrew Zow duel in 2001. First-year Alabama coach Dennis Franchione apparently made his pick during fall camp, but the former TCU head man was completely tight-lipped about it, fueling all sorts of predictions among Bama fans, most of whom had sided with one or the other of the two passers. The drama stretched right on up to kickoff of the season-opener against UCLA at Bryant-Denny Stadium and finally ended when Watts trotted out for Alabama's first offensive series against the Bruins.

2. AJ McCarron vs. Phillip Sims, 2011

Both AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims were big-time, highly recruited QBs when they signed with Alabama, and when Greg McElroy finished his career at the Capstone following the 2010 season, the battle — and the debate — between McCarron and Sims was on. The competition between the two candidates was extremely tight. Even multiple weeks of fall camp couldn't separate the two in the eyes of Nick Saban and his coaching staff. It wasn't until both guys had the chance to perform in the season opener that McCarron inched ahead and seized the job.

3. Blake Sims vs. Jake Coker, 2014

All the early signs pointed to Florida State transfer and super-hyped Jake Coker winning the Alabama quarterback job for the 2014 season, but Blake Sims, who looked unimpressive in the spring, upped his game during Bama's 2014 fall camp and surprised everyone by beating out Coker. Sims went on to prove his fall camp emergence was no fluke, leading Alabama to an SEC championship and a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoffs.

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4. Jake Coker vs. Cooper Bateman vs. Alec Morris, 2015

For the second year in a row, Jake Coker found himself entrenched in a highly publicized, intensely speculative quarterback battle throughout fall camp in 2015. This time his primary challengers were the highly athletic Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris, who probably had the best grasp of the Alabama offense. Morris seemed to gain a little momentum for the job midway through camp, but Coker seemed to be back in the lead, slightly ahead of the surging Bateman, by the close of camp. 

5. Jay Barker vs. Brian Burgdorf, 1994

A late-season knee injury shelved starting QB Jay Barker near the end of the '93 season, and when his backup, Brian Burgdorf, turned in an MVP performance in the 1993 Gator Bowl, the debate on who should be Bama's signal-caller in '94 heated up. In fall camp, Barker, who hadn't exactly wowed fans with his play up to this point in his career, ultimately held off Burgdorf to remain Bama's starting quarterback heading into the '94 season. Barker went on to prove Gene Stallings made the right choice at QB by turning in a senior season to remember. The Trussville native finished fifth in Heisman balloting in '94 and earned the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation's top senior quarterback.

6. Greg McElroy vs. Star Jackson, 2009

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Greg McElroy came out of the spring with the lead, but many expected redshirt freshman Star Jackson, a prized prospect when he signed with the Tide in '08, to potentially overtake McElroy during fall camp. That never happened. McElroy, despite being viewed as less physically talented than Jackson, held on to the job, went into the season as the clear starter and proceeded to lead the Tide to its first national championship in 17 years.

7. David Smith vs. Jeff Dunn vs. Vince Sutton, 1988

Jeff Dunn went into spring drills with the lead at quarterback but an injury to both him and fellow QB challenger Vince Sutton allowed David Smith, who had started some in '87, to get more reps in the spring. All three guys, all of whom had seen action in '87, seemed to be in the picture when Bama's '88 fall camp opened, but Smith, the less heralded of the three and a former walk-on, eventually secured the job.

8. Mike Shula vs. Vince Sutton vs. Hugh Smith vs. Gene Newberry vs. Paul Fields, 1984

Mike Shula had the lead in the spring, but when he went down with a broken leg during spring drills that opened the door for several other candidates. Highly touted freshman Vince Sutton turned out to be Shula's primary competition, and both guys ended up sharing time under center during the '84 season.

9. Mike Shula vs. Vince Sutton vs. Gene Newberry, 1985

Vince Sutton, who had seen a good bit of action in '84, and promising passer Gene Newberry were still in the quarterback picture when the Tide opened fall camp in '85, but Shula, who had also gained a lot of valuable playing experience in '84, held on to the No. 1 spot going into the season. The son of the NFL coaching legend solidified his job by leading the Tide to a dramatic, come-from-behind win over Georgia in the season-opener.

10. Danny Woodson vs. Jay Barker, 1991

Senior Danny Woodson and redshirt freshman Jay Barker were Alabama's leading quarterback candidates heading into the Tide's '91 fall camp, but there was no clear-cut favorite between the two. Woodson eventually got the nod over Barker to start the season, but Barker would eventually take the reins late in the regular season, beginning with the LSU game, after Woodson got suspended.

— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.