While he shared some snaps with Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa was a relatively unknown presence on the Alabama sideline until he entered in the second half of the 2018 championship game and led the Crimson Tide to a win in overtime.
This year, after winning the starting job from Hurts — who posted a 26-2 record during his time under center — Tagovailoa has exploded, putting together one of the best seasons at quarterback in Alabama history.
It is impossible to rank Tagovailoa (and Hurts for that matter) among the Tuscaloosa greats while he still suits up for the Crimson Tide, but we put together a list that he very well may end up on in the future — the five best Alabama quarterbacks of all time.
Any list attempting to be as definitive as this name suggests has a nigh impossible task laid out for it. How do you define the best quarterback?
For this version, we chose to focus on a combination of two things: Individual success as a quarterback and team success under the leadership of each player.
Furthermore, we did not factor NFL success into our rankings (sorry Bart Starr fans).
5. Greg McElroy
McElroy didn’t play much in his first two seasons, sitting behind quarterback John Parker Wilson both years. But in 2009, alongside Heisman-winning running back Mark Ingram, McElroy took over. Highlights came in that year’s Iron Bowl, when McElroy led a 79-yard, 15-play drive to take the first lead of the game with minutes left. “That may have been one of the greatest drives I’ve ever been associated with,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said at the time.
Then came the 2009 SEC Championship, where McElroy outdueled Heisman-winner Tim Tebow to lead the Tide to a 32-13 win. That season would end with a national championship — Nick Saban’s first with Alabama.
The next year, McElroy set a school single-season passing record (2,987 yards) that would be broken by the top player on our list.
4. Pat Trammell
Bear Bryant’s first quarterback set the bar high in Tuscaloosa. In his senior season in 1961, Trammell led Alabama to a perfect season and its first championship in 20 years, while passing for 1,035 yards and eight touchdowns. Trammell also racked up 1,119 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground through his career while compiling a 26-2-4 record.
All of those stats came while sharing significant snaps with Robert Skelton under center in his first two years. In his first year as the primary starter, Trammell won the SEC Most Valuable Player and was named an NCAA Academic All-American.
3. Jay Barker
Barker is the only quarterback on this list to never play for Bear Bryant or Nick Saban. Under coach Gene Stallings in 1992, Barker led Alabama to a perfect season capped off by a national championship upset of No. 1 Miami, 34-13.
Two years later, as a senior, Barker threw for 1,996 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to finishing fifth in Heisman voting.
2. Joe Namath
Before he was Broadway Joe, Namath put up 39 total touchdowns — 15 on the ground — for Alabama, and gave Bear Bryant his second national championship while posting a 29-4 record for the Crimson Tide.
While Namath’s numbers don’t look quite as impressive compared to today’s stats, they are very competitive in the era. For reference, 1964 Heisman winner John Huarte (of Notre Dame), threw for 2,062 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions on the year.
1. AJ McCarron
No other quarterback on this list was the starter for two national championship teams. But McCarron didn’t just win championships, he excelled in them. In the 2011 title game, he was named the Offensive Player of the Game. In the 2012 championship, he passed for 264 yards and four touchdowns.
If that weren’t enough, McCarron put up crazy passing numbers during his time in Tuscaloosa: 77 touchdowns to just 15 interceptions, 9,019 total yards, a 66.9 completion percentage, and an overall rating of 162.5. All that with a 36-4 record.
It didn’t hurt to play on teams with Trent Richardson and Amari Cooper. McCarron’s best season came when Cooper was a freshman, in 2012. That year, McCarron passed for 2,933 yards, 30 touchdowns (an Alabama record), and just three interceptions. But it was the following season (when he set the Alabama record with 3,063 passing yards) that saw McCarron first place in Heisman voting, where he finished second to Jameis Winston. No Alabama quarterback has ever won the Heisman, but McCarron came closer than any other.