By the end of his press conference to announce that he was leaving school early for the NFL, even Tua Tagovailoa found himself talking about Alabama’s quarterback battle.

That’s how intriguing it is.

“There will still be a Tagovailoa around here playing football, my little brother Taulia,” Tagovailoa said. “It’ll be a good competition. Bryce Young looked really good at his All-American game. If you love competition, now is the best time for it — for Mac, my little brother and Bryce Young.”

Obviously, he’s a bit biased with his brother, redshirt freshman-to-be Taulia Tagovailoa, hoping to win the job. Other than the younger Tagovailoa showing up at his brother’s press conference rocking a black Alabama jersey in his likeness, it’s been a pretty quiet couple of weeks for him.

For 2 of the other guys he’ll be battling, though, a lot happened. Like, a lot of stuff happened in what could help determine the winner of the most intriguing quarterback battle in America.

By now, you know the nuts and bolts. In addition to Taulia Tagovailoa, fellow 2018 signee Paul Tyson — who more people in Tuscaloosa know him as the great-grandson of Bear Bryant — will enter fall camp as the presumed underdogs to win the starting job. Why is that?

Well, a couple of reasons. One is the aforementioned Young. The incoming 5-star recruit gave Alabama fans a brief scare when rumors swirled that he was considering a last-minute flip to local USC, but he still signed with the Crimson Tide. He was the program’s highest-rated quarterback signee since Brodie Croyle in 2001. Now, there’s hope that Young can do what Jalen Hurts did as a true freshman. That is, go out-perform multiple quarterbacks his senior en route to a blowout win against USC to open the season.

The success of Hurts, Trevor Lawrence and Jake Fromm is proof that a true freshman like Young could come in and lead Alabama to a national title. And the success of Young at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl last week only added to the belief that he’s the real deal. Young earned MVP honors after completing 6 passes for 164 yards with 2 touchdowns, including one on his first play from scrimmage:

Somewhere, an Alabama fan said the words “Inject Bryce Young running the RPO slant into my veins!”

OK, maybe that was just me as an unbiased observer who likes watching long touchdowns.

And here Young was basically throwing a 40-yard dart off his back foot:

I tend to think that the downfield passing with Alabama fans is like adults with smart phones. Sure, adults didn’t always have smart phones and they once functioned without them. But take them away now and it feels like you’re stepping back in time. And if you don’t have to give it up, why would you? They makes life easier.

The same could be said for the downfield passing in Alabama’s offense. Tua Tagovailoa did that better than anyone ever did at Alabama. In all likelihood, his successor won’t do it at that level. But it still needs to be a major part of the offensive game plan like it’s been the past couple of years with Mike Locksley and Steve Sarkisian as Alabama’s primary play-callers.

Consider that my segue into why Mac Jones had what I’d argue was as important of a bowl performance as any returning quarterback in college football. It always helps when on the first play of the game, you know that Michigan is comically going to attempt to cover Jerry Jeudy with a single-high safety.

My goodness, that was laughable.

Jones did exactly what he did all week in practice. He made sure he recognized the coverage, he identified how far Jeudy would be able to run under one and 85 yards later, Alabama had 6 points. The irony of that play was that it was exactly like one we’ve grown to expect from Tagovailoa — the long touchdown that happens before people even get to their seats.

That wasn’t the lone deep-ball instance of the day. Jones’ pass to DeVonta Smith was perhaps the best of the day:

Last I checked, completing long touchdown passes to Smith in a postseason game can end up making a pretty big difference in an upcoming quarterback battle. No, that play wasn’t “2nd-and-26,” and Jones didn’t leave us in amazement in the way that Tagovailoa did a couple of years earlier.

But I thought for the second consecutive game away from home and against one of the country’s better defenses — Auburn is No. 17 and Michigan is No. 25 — Jones looked plenty capable of being Alabama’s next starter. Average those 2 games out and you’d see Jones had:

  • 331 passing yards
  • 65.6% accuracy
  • 10.3 yards per attempt
  • 3.5-1 TD-INT ratio
  • 0.5 sacks taken
  • 40 points

I mean, you’ll take that all day. His mistakes were magnified against Auburn because both of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns, but there was still way more good than bad.

And this won’t show up in the stat sheet, but you can tell that Jones’ confidence is up. I saw the way that he interacted with teammates after the Citrus Bowl, and that’s the look of someone who is determined to have total command of the locker room.

I’m not sure how much Young, Taulia Tagovailoa or Tyson will be able to gain on Jones in that regard. And if we’re being honest, those 3 quarterbacks won’t get a chance to do anything that quite compares to what Jones just did. Impressing in a high school All-Star game, or in practice or in the spring game is all well and good, but it isn’t actual game reps.

That’s the biggest feather that Jones has right now. As long as he stays healthy and out of trouble, he should be considered the presumed front-runner to start against USC. His 2-game sample size will loom large when that decision is made by Alabama’s coaching staff.

But despite what Jones showed to close the season, there is still a decision to be made. The connection that Young and Steve Sarkisian have will be a popular topic of conversation while Taulia Tagovailoa’s progression could be the most overlooked storyline in all of this.

It’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staff handles this. The lack of depth in the quarterback room heading into 2018 made it feel like keeping the decision as close to the vest as possible — that yielded Nick Saban’s infamous “quick askin'” quote after the Louisville game — was the smart approach. With presumably more depth and a quarterback room with 3 former Elite 11 quarterbacks with 4-plus years of eligibility remaining (that excludes junior-to-be Jones), we could see more clarity leading up to the opener than we did in 2018 or even 2016.

Who knows? What we do know is that Tua Tagovailoa’s NFL departure re-ignited the belief that we’re set to have one heck of a quarterback battle in 2020. It’s as good as any in America.

What else do we know? It’s been an important 2 weeks in Tuscaloosa.

If there is going to be another decade of dominance in the 2020s, something tells me we’ll point back at how it all got started.