HOOVER, Ala. — It's time to start over for Georgia and Alabama.
As the Bulldogs and Tide prepare to open fall football camp, each will be without the veteran quarterbacks who led them to unprecedented success over the past four seasons.
Georgia will open with first-time starter Hutson Mason, hoping the four years he spent behind All-SEC quarterback Aaron Murray will accelerate his learning curve.
"When you lose a guy like (Murray), it can be tough," coach Mark Richt said. "The blessing for us is Hutson Mason being in the program going into his fifth season, a guy that got to watch Aaron's work ethic, to see how he ran the offseason program, how he would organize pass skeleton and those types of things. Just the fact that Hutson has the respect of his teammates, the confidence of his teammates and coaches, to take on that leadership role."
The Tide, which won two national titles with quarterback AJ McCarron, enters fall with a battle at the quarterback position between Jacob Coker, who transferred this spring after graduating from Florida State, and senior Blake Sims. Coach Nick Saban said despite the popular outside opinion that it's Coker's job to lose, he sees it differently.
"That's really not internally the perception by me, our staff or our players," he said. "Jake Coker has the opportunity to come in and compete for the position. Blake Sims has been competing for the position. Really did a pretty good job in the spring. Didn't play great in the spring game, but we really didn't do the things that he's capable of doing. So there's going to be a competition there, as well as some of the younger players will be involved in that competition. We really can't make that decision or prediction as to what's going to happen at that position, but the development of that position, regardless of who the player is, is going to be critical to the success of our team."
Mason took a long road to becoming Georgia's starter. That he has waited for years speaks volumes to his teammates, and also provides some stability.
"I don't think there is any dropoff in his game," said senior wide receiver Chris Conley. "But I think Hutson being there, us knowing Hutson is the guy, the team knowing Hutson's the guy, Hutson knowing how everything works is a positive. He has been in our system, obviously going into his fifth year. But there's been no change in our system. He has the blessing of being with coach (Mike) Bobo the entire time, being in the same system the entire time, seeing Murray doing it and having a chance to start a few games last year. I think we'll transition well."
Alabama ended the season with two losses, a stunning end for a program that lost just two games total the previous two years and won back-to-back national titles.
"We didn't bring our A game those two games," defensive back Landon Collins said. "That's been motivation for us. It's been hard work. We're taking each day like it's our last. We don't want to take a loss and heartbreak like that again."
The uncertainty at quarterback and the loss of players such as linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety HaHa Clinton-Dix means finding new leadership will be key for the Tide.
"Having lost our last two games last year, I think it's a little bit different mind-set with our players," Saban said. "We have to reestablish our identity as a team at Alabama. It's going to take every player to have a tremendous amount of buy-in for us to be able to do that.
''I think you basically need to check your ego at the door, all of us in our organizations: players, coaches, everybody in our organization."
Contact Antonya English at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Gators.