How do we really feel about Jalen Hurts?
Let’s talk, just you and me.
Seeing Oklahoma overcome Baylor in overtime on Saturday afternoon, and subsequently punch its ticket into the College Football Playoff bracket, gave me lots of complicated emotions. And if you were being honest with yourself, it probably did for you too.
The Oklahoma graduate transfer quarterback rolled the dice by leaving Alabama after 3 seasons, and had his pick of destinations. He chose the Sooners, partially because Lincoln Riley is a quarterback whisperer, and partially because he saw the Norman as a place to best highlight his unique talents.
With the Sooners’ official selection as the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff, Hurts will become the first quarterback in history to make the CFP in 4 consecutive seasons. It’s the feather on a regular season in which he’s a Heisman Trophy finalist after throwing for 3,634 yards and 32 TDs, and rushing for another 1,255 yards and 18 more TDs.
Issue is, Hurts has done all of this with Oklahoma. Not with Alabama, the team he left behind in an anguish-laden decision last year at this time.
Hindsight firmly being 20/20, there isn’t an Alabama fan on Earth who wouldn’t wish for Jalen Hurts to be on the Crimson Tide roster right now. No slight to Mac Jones, but substitute Hurts for Jones against Auburn in the Iron Bowl and the entire trajectory of Alabama’s season instantly changes.
That’s why seeing Hurts celebrate in Crimson and Cream instead of Crimson and White is, well, complicated. Because it would be tough to begrudge Hurts the decision he made in the first place.
After all, Hurts was in the unenviable position of being the 2nd-best quarterback on his team while also perhaps being the 2nd-best quarterback in the country.
When Tua Tagovailoa beat out Hurts for the Alabama starting QB position to start the 2018 season, it set into motion a chain of events that lead us to today — with Oklahoma advancing to take on top-ranked LSU and Alabama sitting at home preparing for Michigan and finally feeling what it is like to miss out on the College Football Playoff.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Hurts. After all, he lost just 2 games as a starter at Alabama, was the SEC Freshman of the Year and led the Tide to 2 consecutive national title games as a starter before losing his gig to Tagovailoa — first infamously at halftime of the Tide’s comeback victory over Georgia to win the 2017 title, and again after a protracted-yet-honorably-contested battle for the Tide’s starting spot heading into 2018.
“Gotta win the game one way or another,” Hurts said of the halftime switcheroo against the Bulldogs. “I’m always going to be a team guy. Coach made the decision that he made and we’re national champions. I’ll be able to say that for the rest of my life. That day made me who I am and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Hurts then did exactly what a young man of his character does throughout 2018, watching Tagovailoa torch the SEC en route to finishing second in the Heisman Trophy balloting and even pulling the reverse switch when Tagovailoa went down via injury against Georgia in the SEC title game.
After graduating from Alabama, Hurts became eligible for a graduate transfer that would allow him to immediately play anywhere in the country. He chose Oklahoma, in part because Riley’s reputation as a quarterback whisperer is growing by the season and also (we think, anyway …) because the Sooners’ colors look awfully similar to Alabama’s if you squint just right.
For his part, Hurts did and said all the right things this season about his graduate-transfer switch from Alabama to Oklahoma.
“When have you ever seen a guy who only loses 2 games in 2 years as a starter and goes to 2 national championships, ends up losing his job. … it’ll probably never happen again in the history of college football,” Hurts said earlier this year. “And then him not transferring and having the opportunity to see it through to the end … it doesn’t happen. It’s like a 30-for-30. It’s like movie.
“I think the rarity of this situation, the rarity of me being able to play and start for 2 prestigious universities. Historically, probably 2 of the best in the country and how I handled the adversity that was put in front of me.”
And Hurts did so again, properly dispelling the strength of a Baylor program that took the Sooners to the limit in the Big 12 championship game before falling 30-23.
“There is a narrative out there that the SEC is a different animal,” Hurts said. “But the Big 12 is tough. Baylor, they’re a really good team, very physical team, and I got a lot of respect for them.”
As for his time in Norman, all Hurts wanted was a chance to play.
“My expectations were to play to my standard of play. People talk about pressure of doing that, but I started as a freshman for coach (Nick) Saban and ain’t nobody ever done that, so I’m alright,” Hurts said. “I don’t feel any chips (on my shoulder). I feel heavy boulders. Everything I do I take it personal. I definitely appreciate every moment I have to play this game. Every opportunity I have because I know it can be taken away at any moment.”
That passion, quiet yet apparent, is a main reason Saban brought Hurts to Alabama. That talent, now on display yet again on college football’s grandest stage, is why there simply wasn’t enough footballs to share between Hurt and Tagovailoa — 2 singular talents who unfortunately met at the same time at the same place.
And that is why it is hard to watch Hurts right now with Oklahoma. Because for as much as you and I both want Hurts to succeed and thrive, it also hurts to see our former love in the arms of another.
It will be complicated, yes, to watch Hurts take on LSU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 28.
But let’s just keep that between you and me.