West Virginia notebook: Alabama coach Nick Saban yet to name starting QB

Three-year starter AJ McCarron left the nest this spring


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Few jobs in Tuscaloosa, Ala., are subject to such supreme levels of scrutiny as the starting quarterback of the Alabama football team. Maybe that's why Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has yet to name his starter five days before No. 2 Alabama and West Virginia kick off the 2014 season in Atlanta.

Three-year starter AJ McCarron left the nest this spring with a championship ring and a 36-4 record to his name, and the search for his successor has been whittled down to senior Blake Sims and junior Jacob Coker.

Saban said Monday he has "no plans" to rotate the quarterbacks throughout the game but then made a quick call to his bullpen of cross-sport analogies.

"That doesn't mean that whatever pitcher starts the game is necessarily going to pitch nine innings," Saban said. "When [Yankees manager] Joe Girardi tells [Masahiro] Tanaka he's starting a game, he's not telling him he's going to pitch nine innings. Does he tell him that, or does he just pitch until he doesn't pitch well anymore?"

Sims, the incumbent backup, is a dual-threat option who has played in 23 games at Alabama, throwing for 244 yards on 23-of-39 passing and rushing for 355 yards.

"Blake has more familiarity with the system, having been here longer," Saban said. "I think he's more comfortable doing the things we do."

Coker transferred to Alabama this summer after graduating from Florida State, where he was backup to Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Coker still lacks knowledge of and experience with the offense, Saban said. He started to suggest Coker's true disadvantage is his level of confidence but stopped mid-sentence.

"It's kind of an interesting thing," Saban said. "We say players play without confidence, but to think that a guy can play with confidence when he doesn't yet have knowledge [of the system] is almost stupid. A player has to be able to develop knowledge and understanding of what he's supposed to do for him to really have confidence in doing it."

Asked whether being without a starting quarterback for Week 1 is a worrisome indication, Saban said, "Well, I was going to look at the glass half full on that one -- you could say both guys are playing really, really well and it's hard to choose."

Saban looks back

At his core, Saban is a tried and true West Virginian. The son of working-class parents from Monongah, W.Va., 20 miles outside of Morgantown, Saban shared a few memories of his childhood as a diehard fan.

West Virginia football "was the biggest thing going when I was a kid," Saban said. "Going to Mountaineer Field to watch West Virginia play was the highlight of my year. I still have great memories of home, I have great memories of the people and relationships I have at home, and I've always been a Mountaineer fan."

Saban recalled dangling his feet over the edge of the upper deck at Stansbury Hall, peering through the railing as future NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West suited up for the Mountaineers.

"I remember listening to my little brown transistor radio when [University of California's] Darrall Imhoff hit a jump shot to end a game in [1959] to win, 71-70, in the national championship game. You don't forget stuff like that.

"But now I'm Alabama's coach now, so I'm an Alabama fan. We don't really have to be concerned with any of that."

NCAA suspends Banks

Redshirt senior cornerback Ishmael "Icky" Banks was suspended by the NCAA for three games -- the entirety of the Mountaineers' non-conference schedule -- because of "academic issues," according to coach Dana Holgorsen.

"For the first three games, he will be suspended but able to practice," Holgorsen said on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. "He'll back for our Oklahoma game and the remainder of the Big 12 schedule after that. We're glad that he got it resolved and thank the NCAA for their ruling on that."

Banks started all 12 games at cornerback last season, making 32 tackles and two interceptions. Holgorsen will hope to plug the hole in the secondary with senior Travis Bell and junior Terrell Chestnut.

"We've got bodies at corner," Holgorsen said. "We've just got to see how they respond."

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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