There isn’t any envying Alabama’s upcoming challenge. No college football program wants to break in a new quarterback with an SEC gauntlet on the horizon. However, that’s exactly what the Crimson Tide will have to do – and Bama won’t have much time to do it.
Tennessee’s rival in the the Yellowhammer state will throw Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson or newly acquired transfer Tyler Buchner into the fire this fall with very little playing time under their collective belts. Milroe made his lone start against Texas A&M last season when starter Bryce Young went down with an injury the week before. The results were less than spectacular. Milroe lost two fumbles and threw three interceptions as Bama barely escaped with a 24-20 win against the Aggies. Simpson has only played in mop-up duty behind Milroe.
That leads to Buchner, who transferred from Notre Dame during the spring transfer portal. Buchner started three games for the Fighting Irish last season and played in 10 games during his freshman season in 2021. Buchner was likely going to lose his edge on the starting position to Wake Forest transfer Sam Hartman and that may already be the case. Hartman was a standout for Notre Dame in the spring game and is expected to the be named the starter this season.
It’s hard to imagine Alabama taking a quarterback transfer in the spring transfer portal unless its coaches were at least somewhat disappointed by Milroe and Simpson in spring practice. It’s also hard to imagine that Buchner will be overly welcomed by Milroe and Simpson in the quarterback room.
Tennessee is in a very different position. With projected starter Joe Milton III and freshman Nico Iamaleava in place, the Vols didn’t bring in a transfer quarterback as many thought they might. Milton has played extensively and, by all accounts, the chemistry with his teammates is exceptional.
If Alabama head coach Nick Saban plans to play Buchner over Milroe and Simpson, internal chemistry among the quarterbacks could be a secondary concern. Simply getting Buchner ready to play within Alabama’s system with four months until the season begins is challenging enough.
“It could be hard, especially from summer (moving forward),” Tennessee center Cooper Mays said.
The Vols had to get a new quarterback ready last season and in 2021. However, both of those quarterbacks, former Vol Hendon Hooker and Milton, had spring practice to get acclimated to a new offense after they transferred from Virginia Tech and Michigan, respectively. Buchner won’t have that. He’ll have summer workouts and preseason camp to prepare for the season. With school breaks and preseason camp scheduled to start in late July, the clock it ticking.
“There’s definitely not a lot of time to get ready and you know hard it is,” Mays said during the Vol Report. “I mean when you first started doing journalism at your new spots, it probably took you a few months to get comfortable as well. I mean you don’t have much time. So if you’re coming in the end of May you got, maybe, two months to get ready. It’s dicey.”
For the record, journalism is a bit easier than facing an SEC defense, at least that’s what I’ve been told. Aside from the X’s and O’s, Saban and his new trio of quarterbacks have to work together under the same roof. Surely, Milroe or Simpson thought they’d have the inside track on the starting job in Tuscaloosa. However, with Buchner in town, chemistry could be an issue.
Tennessee has faced that scenario before. The Vols tried to start Milton in 2021 before he was injured. Then, Hooker secured the starting job for 2022. Milton could have transferred when he lost the starting job to Hooker. However, Milton stuck around even when Hooker was deemed the starter before the 2022 season. In this day and age of the transfer portal, that’s unusual. Only one quarterback can play and the Vols had Milton stay with the mindset to attack the position in 2023.
“I think that Joe Milton would probably handle it pretty well because Joe could come in and command a room,” Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren said of Milton transferring in shortly before the season. “Obviously it would be a little different, just a trust level wise, you know what I mean?
“It’d be hard to to adapt that quickly, but, regardless of who someone is and what happens when they get there, the second that you step on the field with someone and you have that shared experience and you go through adversity with each other, the bond that you build is, is actually pretty insane.”
Can Buchner connect on that level with his two teammates before 2023 season? He won’t have the shared experiences that Milroe and Simpson have with their teammates, who already have bonded with those that they’ve played with.
“Offseason workouts with someone and, especially, someone that you’re going to call a leader is super impactful for how much you trust them and how much you believe that they’re going to be able to get their job done,” Warren said. “That’s what the game is all about, is trusting the guys around you. I think it’s definitely amazing and advantageous that Joe has been around and he’s been with us, but yeah, you get a transfer quarterback, you have to make it work regardless. Somebody’s got to be back there snapping the ball to. Luckily we don’t really have to deal with that right now.”
What would be Warren’s advice to anyone be when bringing in a quarterback this late in the year? Simple. Work.
“You’re gonna have to put in extra hours. You’re going to have to get comfortable, and there’s going to be mistakes that are made along the way and that’s super normal,” Warren said.
It is indeed, normal to have mistakes in football. However, teams would prefer those mistakes happen during offseason workouts. If Alabama decides to name Buchner its starter, some of those mistakes could easily creep into the fall. With a new offensive coordinator in place at Alabama, there’s even more of a challenge at hand.
While it seems a bit hard to believe, there’s reason for Alabama to be a bit envious of Tennessee’s quarterback situation. If things don’t change quickly, that could become the norm.