Why Florida's Successful Chris Leak/Tim Tebow QB Model Probably Isn't Right for Alabama This Year

The 2006 Florida team had great success using both the experienced Chris Leak and the young Tim Tebow at quarterback, but that doesn't mean it's a good solution for 2018 Alabama's QB battle.
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The Alabama quarterback situation remains the nation’s most fascinating offseason storyline, and you have questions…

From Blake: Are we going to have a Chris Leak/Tim Tebow type year with the Alabama QB situation?

I don’t think so, if only because the opportunity for that—if such an opportunity ever existed at all—passed last year. The two-quarterback system employed by the 2006 Florida team that won the national title is one of the few examples of a working multi-QB arrangement, but it only worked because of a very specific set of circumstances. Those circumstances don’t exist at Alabama at the moment.

At Florida in 2006, Leak was a senior who had already started for three years. As a sophomore in Larry Fedora’s offense during Ron Zook’s final season as head coach, he had led the SEC in passing yards. During coach Urban Meyer’s first year at Florida in 2005 (Leak’s junior season), Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen had to retool the Gators’ offense in the middle of the year after realizing they didn’t have the personnel to run exactly the offense they wanted. They did, however, have the personnel to run an effective offense if they were willing to make some changes.

They built those changes around Leak, and even though the 2006 recruiting class included Tebow and Percy Harvin, Florida still didn’t have the right personnel to run the pure distillation of Meyer’s offense. It made much more sense to continue to run the hybrid version that played to Leak’s strengths and then take advantage of Tebow’s obvious natural gifts in areas where Leak wasn’t as good. (Specifically, short-yardage situations such as fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter against Tennessee in 2006.) This proved an excellent combination, and it worked because Tebow wasn’t ready to be the starter from day one and therefore was willing to accept a smaller but still critically important role. His contributions increased as the season went on, and by the end, he could have taken over as the starter if needed. But Leak also had finally gotten comfortable with the new staff. The BCS title game against Ohio State, Leak’s final game as a Gator, might have been his best in a Florida uniform.

This might have worked at Alabama last year had Crimson Tide coaches chosen to use Tua Tagovailoa in spot situations with games in doubt during the regular season rather than in a pure backup role. But here’s where the situations diverge. Leak was the better passer in the Florida scenario. Tebow, as the better runner, was a good fit for spot duty. Had Tagovailoa replaced Jalen Hurts in tight spots and started completing go routes, the logical conclusion would have been to just keep Tagovailoa at quarterback all the time.

The second half of the national title game showed us what Tagovailoa can do at the controls of the offense. (The good and the bad; his two plays in overtime might be the starkest contrast between a pair of consecutive plays in college football history.) And because of the players’ eligibility situations, it now feels like an either/or proposition. It’s difficult to imagine either Hurts—who is 26–2 as a starter—or Tagovailoa accepting a spot-duty backup role that costs a precious year of eligibility that could be used as a starter somewhere else.

The new four-game redshirt rule makes the situation far less awkward and should allow both players to get a fair shot playing in actual games with no risk of losing that year of eligibility. But if Hurts and Tagovailoa stay healthy, it’s tough to imagine this story ending in any scenario other than the two quarterbacks starting at two different schools in 2019.


From Cyrus: Is it too far-fetched to believe Lane Kiffin returns to Boca for a third year to remain the head coach of Florida Atlantic? Just looking at the Power 5 landscape, the schools that could potentially be in the market don't have the prestige Lane typically seeks.

It is not far-fetched at all, but not for the reason Cyrus suggested. I don’t know that Kiffin would select another job based on prestige. After all, he took half what he could have made as LSU’s offensive coordinator to be the head coach at FAU. This was a bet he placed on himself because he knew the only way to get another Power 5 head coaching job was to prove he could be an effective CEO.

And Kiffin was extremely effective. The Owls went from 3–9 to 11–3. The turnaround was nothing short of remarkable. But notoriously risk-averse Power 5 ADs want to see more from Kiffin. His propensity to generate headlines isn’t really the issue. What he still must overcome is the fact that he couldn’t succeed long-term at USC, which even in its NCAA-sanctioned state offered a host of advantages other schools simply don’t have. But multiple double-digit win seasons at FAU could definitely strengthen Kiffin’s case. Even then, he probably wouldn’t get offered a prestigious Power 5 job. There is probably one more step before that. He’s more likely to be the perfect candidate at a place that needs to generate some buzz. Buzz follows Kiffin wherever he goes.

But here’s the problem. Where are the jobs? The firing of AD Sheahon Zenger at Kansas and installation of Jeff Long suggests the Jayhawks administration won’t be patient with coach David Beaty, who has won three games in three years. Kliff Kingsbury seems perpetually on the hot seat at Texas Tech. But few other coaches enter the 2018 season coaching for their jobs. Lovie Smith hasn’t set the world on fire at Illinois, but his hiring was one of AD Josh Whitman’s first moves, and Smith played a ton of freshmen in 2017, a sign everyone has an eye on the future. Larry Fedora had a terrible season last year at North Carolina, but AD Bubba Cunningham is quite cognizant of the job Fedora did recruiting the Tar Heels through an academic scandal that ultimately didn’t result in NCAA penalties but made Fedora’s task much more difficult. Sure, Fedora might be gone if he goes 3–9 again. But history suggests North Carolina will be much better. Bill Snyder might retire at Kansas State, or he might coach until he’s 100. Plus, Kiffin and Kansas State aren’t a marriage that seems possible.

The new 10-year contract Kiffin agreed to at FAU won’t keep him there if a Power 5 school wants him and he wants to go; the buyout is a manageable $2 million. But what could keep him there—even after another excellent season—is a lack of available jobs. Plus, sticking around isn’t exactly a bad thing. There are far worse things to be than a millionaire in Boca Raton.

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From Kevin: Best press box food? Who served the strangest? Is barbecue a good food for a lunch meeting? I maybe only need an answer to the last one but thought the first two would get me in…

The third would have been fine, because I don’t usually eat much press box food. SI pays for my meals on the road, so I’m probably going to find something great rather than eat something mass-produced by the company that holds a university’s food service contract. But I do enjoy when a program serves a regional delicacy in the press box. For example, Nebraska will occasionally break out chili and cinnamon rolls, which is a combination people in Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas eat together. These moments are delicious and educational.

As for your most pressing question, it’s absolutely fine to serve barbecue at a lunch meeting, especially if you have access to good barbecue. Remember, meat cooked properly requires no sauce. So you needn’t worry about a mess.

I wouldn’t order ribs or chicken. Anything that must be eaten with the hands or awkwardly with a fork is a no-go. Stick with pulled pork or sliced brisket. These can be eaten plain by those living the NSNG life or tossed on a bun by those who still love their carbs. If you must use sauce, I’d suggest something from eastern North Carolina or from South Carolina’s Pee Dee region. These are vinegar-based sauces that act more as a marinade. (And the Pee Dee stuff has a great red-pepper kick.) They soak into the meat and are less likely to wind up on someone’s shirt.

So, um, when exactly is this meeting? I feel like we should do some business.