COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 01 Alabama at Arkansas
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Jalen Milroe will start at quarterback when No. 4 Alabama opens its 2023 season Saturday against Middle Tennessee, according to ESPN. Milroe has been in competition with redshirt freshman Ty Simpson and Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner throughout preseason practice after appearing in 12 games over two seasons as Bryce Young's backup.

Milroe, a redshirt sophomore, played in key moments for the Crimson Tide last season, seeing action when Young was injured against Arkansas and then starting the following week against Texas A&M in Young's absence. Alabama won both games as Milroe flashed promise as a dual-threat playmaker. However, he faced stiff competition for the starting job following Young's departure for the NFL.

Simpson is a former five-star prospect, and Buchner arrived from Notre Dame with experience operating under first-year Alabama offensive coordinator Tommy Rees. The competition for the job was significant enough throughout August that Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban offered few hints about the direction he was leaning, even declining to put out a Week 1 depth chart that would have revealed a starter.

While Alabama should have no trouble against the Blue Raiders on Saturday regardless of who plays quarterback, the stakes intensify in Week 2 when No. 11 Texas visits Bryant-Denny Stadium in one the season's biggest nonconference showdowns.

Competition continues

Milroe is in line for the season's first snaps, but Saban made it clear during his radio show Thursday that the quarterback decision has not been settled definitively. 

"The quarterback who plays on Saturday, that's the quarterback for Saturday," Saban said, per Bama247. "The life of a quarterback -- any quarterback -- depends on how they perform. So if a guy plays well, that's what creates security at that position. ... A guy has got to understand that the way he performs is really, really important.

"Whoever starts the game, it's not their job in perpetuity because they have to perform well," Saban continued. "Because they don't have a lot of experience, I think we're all interested in seeing how they all perform."

Ideally, Alabama would open up a significant lead on Middle Tennessee, allowing Simpson and Buchner the opportunity to play as well as the Crimson Tide gear up for their battle with Texas.

New offensive system

All eyes will be on Milroe early, but Saturday's game is also about getting a read on Rees' system. After five years on staff at Notre Dame, his alma mater, the 31-year-old Rees has drawn rave reviews from Saban as he steps into the offensive coordinator position vacated by Bill O'Brien. 

Alabama became particularly reliant on Young last season, failing to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since 2018. Alabama's national title teams in 2018 and 2020 were powered by the passing game, but don't be surprised if this version of the Crimson Tide seeks to reestablish itself as an elite running team. Though LSU and Alabama won national titles in 2019 and 2020, respectively, with prolific passing offenses, programs like Georgia and Michigan have risen to the top of the sport over the past two seasons by physically overwhelming opposing defenses while fielding elite defenses of their own.

Saban has already gone back in time with this team by tabbing Kevin Steele as his defensive coordinator. The well-traveled 65-year-old Steele was Saban's first defensive coordinator at Alabama in 2007 when the Crimson Tide began taking over the sport by relying on their running game with the help of game managers at quarterback. Given Rees' track record with a run-oriented Notre Dame program and the uncertainty of Alabama's quarterbacks, the Crimson Tide may run the football more than in recent seasons.

Big shoes to fill 

Young started for just two seasons but left massive shoes to fill. He won the Heisman Trophy and became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft after throwing for 8,356 yards and 80 touchdowns with just 12 interceptions over his career. Prior to Young's reign, Mac Jones led the Crimson Tide to the 2020 national title with a prolific 4,500-yard season that included 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

The Alabama quarterback heritage doesn't stop there. Predecessors to Young and Jones, such as Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, also shined at the position and have gone on to enjoy successful NFL careers. That's a daunting quarterback legacy for Milroe to step into. While the jury remains out on Milroe to a certain extent, there is little doubt about his elite playmaking ability. Even in limited action last season, he averaged 8.5 yards per carry as a rusher and brought an element of physicality to the position at 220 pounds that Young lacked.

His elite ability as a runner is juxtaposed with questions over his efficiency as a passer after he threw three interceptions among his 53 pass attempts in 2022.