West Virginia-Alabama Preview
(AP) - Nick Saban is keeping Alabama's quarterback situation shrouded in as much mystery as possible.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide's coach said that no decision has been made on whether Jake Coker or Blake Sims would start Saturday against West Virginia in Atlanta, or if both would play.
Saban did employ a baseball analogy involving Yankees manager and friend Joe Girardi to indicate that the starter won't be guaranteed of going the distance whatever the plan going into the game.
"I mean, Joe Girardi tells (Masahiro) Tanaka he's starting in the game, he's not telling him he's going to pitch nine innings," Saban said. "Does he tell them that or does he just pitch until he doesn't pitch well anymore?"
Of course, the goal is not to need a bullpen as the season progresses.
Coker and Sims are vying to replace Heisman Trophy runner-up AJ McCarron, who helped lead the Tide to a pair of national titles. That's the big question facing new Alabama quarterbacks these days: Can he lead the Tide to the title?
Alabama finished 11-2 in 2013, losing to Auburn on a bizarre final play in the regular-season finale and to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
"Both of those guys are capable of leading us to the national championship," fullback Jalston Fowler said. "We just have to support them and be behind them and make sure they're confident and have that confidence every week no matter who is playing."
Sims has the advantage of experience in Alabama's offense after two seasons as McCarron's backup and one as a running back. He's still only attempted 39 passes in two seasons and both quarterbacks are working with new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.
Coker didn't arrive in Tuscaloosa until May. He transferred from Florida State after last season when Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy and led the Seminoles to a national title.
Saban said know-how often comes before confidence - not the other way around.
"We say players play without confidence, but to think that a guy can play with confidence when he doesn't yet have knowledge is almost, like, stupid," Saban said. "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. Somebody at the quarterback position who is in a new system, terminology and all that, that's got to be a bit of a factor."
Tide players measured their words carefully on the quarterback situation but said it hasn't been a distraction and both candidates are helping each other out.
"They both push each other and they're both getting better day by day," right tackle Austin Shepherd said. "I think that kind of helps, but we honestly have no idea who's going to start yet. I'm just happy to see both of those guys succeeding and doing well."
Whoever wins will have a strong supporting cast led by tailbacks T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake and receivers Amari Cooper and Christion Jones. They'll also have a freshman left tackle since Cam Robinson is listed as the starter in the depth chart released Monday.
Cooper is hoping to prove he's one of the nation's best receivers no matter who is throwing to him. The junior had team highs of 45 catches and 736 yards last season while adding four touchdowns, but he fought through injuries and recorded his only 100-yard games in the final two of the season.
"I don't know if I've had a lot of success," Cooper said. "I don't look at it like I've had a lot of success. I'm always anxious to do more. Break records."
Alabama's defense will be short-handed, as starting linebacker Trey DePriest has been suspended for the opener for what Saban calls a ''minor NCAA infraction.'' The preseason first-team All-SEC pick had 65 tackles last season.
Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland will start the West Virginia game in Atlanta at inside linebacker.
West Virginia, facing the Tide for the first time, is hoping for some improvement after going 4-8 last season for its first losing record since finishing 3-8 in 2001. Coach Dana Holgorsen could be on the hot seat after two down years since moving to the Big 12.
He named Clint Trickett the starting quarterback despite Trickett throwing seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2013. He's also coming off shoulder surgery in the offseason, though Holgorsen is confident Trickett is ready to go.
"We need to stay the course, continue to develop our talent, continue to recruit better, and then we'll win those games," Holgorsen said. "Hopefully we can put a season together that everybody will be proud of."
The Mountaineers' defense ranked ninth in the 10-team Big 12 in total yards allowed at 455.0 per game last season, and it will begin 2014 without starting cornerback Ishmael Banks after he was suspended for the first three games due to an academic issue.