MORGANTOWN, W.Va. —The Chick-fil-A Kickoff point spread remains broader than an elephant’s behind with Alabama favored by 26 in some sports books. And whereas the Crimson Tide launched at No. 2 in Sunday’s AP preseason poll, not a single voter cast even a single vote for West Virginia.
Such is the lopsided aftermath of the Mountaineers going 4-8 last season and Alabama potentially coming within one second of a third consecutive national championship game.
Yet for all the mighty disparities in these two programs, West Virginia owns one significant edge.
An edge at the most important position on the field.
Clint Trickett was publicly handed the quarterback job in June, which was about six months after every person meaningfully engaged with the West Virginia offense recognized him as the starter. And though Trickett’s record as a college starter is a shaky 2-7, he still owns two more wins than whomever will start for Alabama on Aug. 30.
Just which quarterback the Tide chooses may not be revealed until the opening series arrives inside the noisy Georgia Dome. Nick Saban—with his closed practices, camouflaged comments and insistence on silencing assistants—has kept the state in suspense so far: Blake Sims or Jacob Coker?
After Saturday’s 130-play scrimmage, Alabama released stats leaders for rushing, receiving and tackles, but that sly guy Saban kept the passing stats classified. That left reporters and fans to read between the lines during Saban’s post-practice news conference.
“I do think Blake probably is playing a little faster right now,” Saban said of the fifth-year senior. “He’s been in the system longer and has a better understanding, has a little more rhythm.”
And on the Florida State transfer Coker: “I think sometimes Jake was still trying to feel his way He made some real significant strides this week in practice and had some really good practices. So that’s still going to be a competitive situation.”
Saban’s final edict: “Until someone clearly wins the job, we’re not going to make a decision.”
Only once in his seven seasons at Bama has Saban waded this deep into camp without naming a starter. That was 2011, when then-sophomore A.J. McCarron and redshirt freshman Phillip Sims wound up splitting series in the season opener against Kent State. Saban reluctantly termed it a Week 1 audition, the likes of which West Virginia might witness in two weeks.
Trickett befriended Coker in Tallahassee and offered relocation advice last spring when Coker sought a new program.
“We had some good times down there,” said Trickett, reminiscing about deer hunting on Coker’s family property near Mobile. “He has so much land down there, but it’s all high-fenced. So I always give him crap about that, like ‘You might as well just chain ’em up and shoot ’em.'”
Coker figured to bag the starting job at Bama with similar ease, especially after Jimbo Fisher predicted the 6-foot-5 transfer would be the most talented quarterback Saban has ever coached. But as West Virginia can attest, new arrivals sometimes take wrong turns on the learning curve. Even though Alabama’s offense more closely templates FSU’s than the radical change Trickett encountered in Morgantown, Coker may need more acclimation time than a month of preseason practice.
Coker’s buddy in West Virginia playfully hopes for at least a brief delay.
“Well, he is a good quarterback, so I’m not sure I do hope he wins the job,” Trickett said. “Maybe after the first game …”
A first game that, in most facets, sets up as a blowout. Unless WVU’s Year 2 version of Trickett—savvier and more adept—serves as an equalizer to Alabama’s realtime audition.