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Nick Saban says Jalen Hurts told him he’s staying at Alabama, but the Tide’s QB future is still unclear

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Alabama’s quarterback depth chart is a puzzle already, and it could still get more complicated.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Alabama vs Clemson Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama will have a quarterback battle in fall camp. The gladiators will be incumbent starter Jalen Hurts and five-star sophomore Tua Tagovailoa, who replaced Hurts in last January’s national championship game and then led the Tide to a comeback victory.

Both QBs are good. Hurts has performed at something like a top-40 level as a passer over his two seasons in Tuscaloosa, and he’s 26-2 as the starter. Tagovailoa is a year behind Hurts in classification, but he’s a former all-world recruit and looked great in limited but important action in 2017.

It’s common sense that one might consider a transfer, even if you don’t factor in Hurts’ father’s public comments that his son could become “the biggest free agent in college football history” or Tagovailoa suggesting to a bunch of kids that he was going to transfer to USC if he hadn’t gotten into the title game. (He said later he was taken out of context.)

Hurts is the most logical transfer candidate, because he’s slated to graduate in December and could be immediately eligible at another school.

Tagovailoa would have to sit a season if he left the Tide now.

But Nick Saban says Hurts told him he’s not leaving.

ESPN interviewed the coach on Tuesday. He recalled a talk with Hurts:

“Jalen actually came to me and said ... ‘I am going to be here. I am going to be here. I came here to get an education. I graduate in December, and I’m going to be here.’”

That wouldn’t be a binding commitment. Maybe it’s just an expression of confidence from Hurts that he’ll beat out Tagovailoa. Maybe he’s comfortable being a backup if it comes to it, even though he’d be passing on a chance to start at many dozens of possible schools.

Saban also says he told Hurts and Tagovailoa that “everything you do to bring attention to yourself, or anybody even in your family that brings attention to yourself” would work against them in the fight to start.

The math says Alabama will lose a QB or two in the next year.

The Tide have four scholarship QBs on their roster now. Hurts, Tagovailoa, and redshirt freshman Mac Jones return from last year. Plus, in May, they added a late signee to their 2018 class: three-star QB Layne Hatcher, whom they flipped from Arkansas State.

All four of those QBs have eligibility in 2019 or beyond. And the Tide have two QBs verbally committed for that year, one who’s Tagovailoa’s little brother and another who’s Bear Bryant’s great-grandson. You tell me if those commitments sound like they’ll hold up.

If no one left the team with eligibility remaining, no one changed positions, and no one decommitted, the Tide would have six scholarship QBs in 2019.

That pretty surely won’t happen. The NCAA limits teams to 85 scholarships, and the Tide aren’t going to sink five of them into QBs who aren’t playing.

The scholarship realities mean someone’s probably leaving the Bama QB room soon. But we won’t know more until fall camp.

And even then, the future might not be clear. Saban’s consistently allowed for the possibility that the Tide deploy both Hurts and Tagovailoa this season.