QB question in play as No. 4 Alabama hosts Middle Tennessee

Field Level Media

August 29, 2023 at 6:08 pm.

No. 4 Alabama opens the season with a visit from Middle Tennessee on Saturday at Tuscaloosa, Ala., which is when the Crimson Tide might reveal for the first time the identity of the team’s starting quarterback.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is keeping the wraps on who will be the starter after the departure of standout Bryce Young, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.

Jalen Milroe is the perceived favorite after throwing five touchdown passes in 53 attempts last season for the Crimson Tide (11-2 in 2022). Ty Simpson and Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner also have been competing for the starting gig.

“I don’t have any expectations for that right now,” Saban said Monday of the quarterback situation. “We’re going one day at a time and we’re repping the players.”

Saban reiterated earlier comments this month that the quarterback competition doesn’t end just because somebody starts Game 1.

Most observers feel Milroe will be first behind center against Middle Tennessee (8-5 last season).

Milroe started against Texas A&M last season when Young was injured and passed for three touchdowns in a 24-20 victory.

Saban said that Milroe has made strides during fall camp.

“I think Jalen has made a significant amount of improvement,” Saban said. “I think he’s more comfortable in the pocket. I think that he has more confidence in the way he executes and the way he plays.”

Simpson completed 4 of 5 passes last season as the third-stringer. Buchner passed for 949 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions for the Fighting Irish. He started three games for Notre Dame last season.

On the defensive side, standout linebacker Will Anderson is gone — he was selected No. 3 overall by the Houston Texans — so it is Dallas Turner’s time to be the unit’s leader. Turner has 12 1/2 sacks in two seasons.

Middle Tennessee faces a huge task but it did post a 45-31 upset at No. 25 Miami last season. That was a milestone victory for the Blue Raiders, as it was their first in 22 games against ranked foes since becoming an FBS program in 1999.

Beating the Crimson Tide will be a tough task in the eyes of Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill.

“We’ve got a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity this week with Alabama, one of the best teams in the country,” Stockstill said on Monday. “They lose two games last year by a total of four points and everybody thinks that, you know, the sky is falling down there. It’s a really, really talented team.”

The Blue Raiders won their final four games last season and were victorious in a bowl game for the second straight season.

Nicholas Vattiato is the quarterback after making six starts over the previous two seasons. He has passed for 1,340 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in eight career games.

“Even with a great opponent like Alabama, we have a great opportunity to go out there and show what we’ve been building,” Vattiato said. “I believe in my guys more than anyone to be able to go out there against some competition and show what we have.

“Not to prove to ourselves, because we all believe in ourselves, but maybe just to prove to other people that we’re here and we’re here to play.”

Alabama has won the previous three meetings. The most recent was a 37-10 victory in 2015.