Nick Saban’s huge success at Alabama means that his teams are always going to supply their share of preseason story lines, but this year features a particular doozy. Rising sophomore Tua Tagovailoa, the hero of the Crimson Tide’s comeback win in the national championship game, is battling rising junior Jalen Hurts, the 2016 Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year, for the starting quarterback job and a shot to lead an annual juggernaut on another title quest.

So there was already no lack of attention set to be paid to that intrasquad competition, but Thursday brought an intriguing, if not outright explosive, development. In comments to Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report, Hurts’s father promised that his son would be a starting quarterback — if not at Alabama, then as a coveted transfer addition elsewhere.

“Coach Saban’s job is to do what’s best for his team. I have no problem with that,” said Averion Hurts, a head coach in his own right at Channelview (Texas) High. “My job is to do what’s best for Jalen — and make no mistake, Jalen is a quarterback, and he wants to play quarterback. He loves Alabama, loves Coach Saban and everything about that place. But he wants to play, and he will play … .”

Hayes wrote that Averion Hurts paused at that moment, and when asked what would happen if his son didn’t win the starting job in Tuscaloosa, “begrudgingly” offered this response: “Well, he’d be the biggest free agent in college football history.”

Asked about those comments after practice Thursday — just two days before Alabama’s spring game — Saban told reporters that he’d recently had “a very positive meeting” with Hurts’s father, coming back to the word “positive” several more times to describe his relationship with the Hurts family.

“But I think at the end of the day everybody has career decisions that they’ll have to make,” Saban said (via ESPN). “Nobody knows what the outcome of the situation will bring for us. We don’t want any players not to be able to fulfill their goals and aspirations in our program here. We don’t want that for any of our players.”

After an impressive freshman season in which Alabama fell just short to Clemson for the College Football Playoff championship, Hurts started every game last season and led the Tide to a 12-1 record going into another title contest, this time against SEC rival Georgia. However, he played poorly as Alabama fell behind and was benched in favor of Tagovailoa, who had received sporadic playing time during the regular season, mostly in mop-up duty.

Despite the pressure-packed setting, Tagovailoa performed admirably, completing 14 of 24 pass attempts for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score in overtime. That immediately made him a fan favorite in Tuscaloosa, although Hurts himself had previously built up plenty of good will while throwing 40 career touchdown passes to just 10 interceptions and rushing for 1,809 yards and 21 more scores in two seasons.

However, as Averion Hurts saw it, his son only has himself to blame for not having a lock on the starting job, having given Tagovailoa a chance to shine against the Bulldogs. “I told Jalen, you f—ed up, you opened the door and put yourself in this situation,” he said to Hayes. “Now it’s up to you to dig yourself out.”

Recently, though, it’s been Tagovailoa who has fallen behind after he suffered a broken finger on his throwing hand last month and then re-aggravated the injury. The Montgomery Advertiser reported Thursday that Tagovailoa would be out until August, giving him little time to overtake Hurts before the season began.

That could create an uncomfortable dynamic, if Hurts or his supporters come to feel that he will inevitably give way to his younger teammate and that his best option is to transfer before that happens. Depending on the circumstances of a possible transfer, Hurts might have to sit out the 2018 season before having two more years of eligibility at another school.

“I think we all want the same thing for all players that compete on our team, regardless of the position,” Saban said. “And even though there’s going to be a significant effort on a lot of folks’ part — none in this room, obviously — who want to make this a very public thing, it’s going to be handled in a very private manner.”

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