Saban canceled the annual opening week depth chart reveal party heading into the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide’s Saturday night debut against Middle Tennessee State. It’s no surprise that he wanted to keep the quarterback pecking order under wraps.
Saban will let everyone know … right about game time. It’s been a battle among 2022 backup Jalen Milroe, former five-star recruit Ty Simpson and Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner. They are all vying to replace No. 1 NFL draft pick Bryce Young.
One thing that Saban has made clear: He who starts first isn’t guaranteed of starting last. That goes for every position, and thus his broken tradition of letting staffers distribute that pesky piece of paper just before his noon news conference on Monday, which he says can be a distraction for some players.
“I think most of the players on our team know who should start in the game and who shouldn’t start,” Saban said. “But that’s something that they do day to day in terms of the way they compete and the way they play. And nobody’s entitled to play just because we put it on a piece of paper and say this is the way it is today.”
Alabama is a nearly 40-point favorite in this game, according to FanDuel Sportsbook with a showdown looming next week against No. 11 Texas. Middle Tennessee went 8-5 last season and won its last four games.
“They’ve got a lot of good players but we’ve got a lot of good players too,” Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said. “I believe in our team.”
It’s an open question, though Milroe did start the Texas A&M game last season when Young was injured. He’s a playmaker as a runner as well. Buchner opened and closed last season as Notre Dame’s starter with a shoulder injury sidelining him in between. Buchner followed offensive coordinator Tommy Rees from South Bend to Tuscaloosa. Simpson has the least experience among them but was a prized recruit. Of course, it wouldn’t be all that surprising if the competition continues beyond Game 1.
Alabama, which has often opened with neutral site games in recent seasons, has a 21-game winning streak in home openers. The Tide has won 20 straight at Bryant-Denny Stadium going back to 2019 and won 56 consecutive nonconference regular-season games.
Middle Tennessee picked up its first win over a ranked opponent in 21 tries with last season’s No. 25 Miami. Now, the Blue Raiders are heading to 100,000-seat Bryant-Denny Stadium, but Stockstill says he doesn’t “make a big deal out of that kind of stuff.”
“We’ve been in big stadiums,” Stockstill said. “We’ve been in loud stadiums.”
There are plenty of new Tide players beyond Buchner who could play meaningful roles right away. Saban and teammates have consistently praised freshmen like safety Caleb Downs and Kadyn Procter, who has been competing to start at left tackle.
Backfield depth could come from five-star freshmen Justice Haynes and/or Richard Young. The group of potential playmakers among the newcomers also includes wide receiver Malik Benson, a junior college transfer.
Middle Tennessee has been adept at forcing turnovers. The Blue Raiders ranked first nationally in turnovers gained in 2021 and second last season. Those numbers include a two-year total of 37 interceptions.
Saban and the Tide are hoping that aggressiveness opens up some big-play chances for the offense, too. It’s a group that includes receivers Ja’Corey Brooks and Jermaine Burton and tailbacks Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams.
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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