The Lasting Impact of Mac Jones’s Flip to Alabama
In the Summer of 2015, Mac Jones was headed into his junior season at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida. In June he was offered his first SEC scholarship by Kentucky. By the end of July, he had committed to Mark Stoops's Wildcats program.
A year and a day to the date of that scholarship offer, June 7, 2016, Jones decommitted from Kentucky. Offers from across the country, from the Sun Belt to the PAC-12 to the BIG 10 were rolling in. On April 10, 2016, Jones was offered by the Alabama Crimson Tide. A month later, Tua Tagovailoa committed to Alabama.
Maybe it was for insurance for Saban in case Tagovailoa drifted or transferred.
Maybe Jones didn't have pro aspirations or thought highly enough of himself to compete.
Maybe the situation made no sense at all to anyone on the outside.
No matter the reasoning and how it could be justified to fans and recruiting analysts, on June 7, 2017, one year to the day of his decommitment from Kentucky, Jones committed to Alabama.
What if Jones didn't though? What if Jones did the rational thing and went back to Kentucky after Tagovailoa put on the Crimson cap? What ramifications could this decision have made? In truth, we would have never have known any different, but the butterfly effect would have impacted the entire college football world.
After two solid years, Stephen Johnson graduated from Kentucky, leaving the quarterback job open for the 2018 season. As a sophomore, Terry Wilson took over the job and has been a respectable, though often injured quarterback for the Wildcats.
In 2018 the Wildcats leaned heavily on junior running back Benny Snell, who was second in the SEC in rushing yards and touchdowns with 1449 yards and 16 scores. His brutish running style boosted Kentucky to its first 10-win season in 40 years.
Arguably, Wilson could have won the job in 2018 thanks to his running ability ( he rushed for over 500 yards that season.) It would be fair to expect both sophomores to see snaps. After all, Wilson had eight interceptions in reality and Jones could have brought a bit more to the passing game in hindsight.
The real difference comes in 2019 though, before we get to the 2020 Wildcats. In 2019, Wilson sustained a season-ending knee injury. Had this still happened, Jones would have started 10 games for the Wildcats instead of four with Alabama. As we saw when Jones took over for Tagovailoa, Jones was already poised in the pocket and in possession of fine passing accuracy. The overwhelming opinion states that those are not learned traits, but rather a given ability needed to play quarterback at a high level.
With Jones at quarterback, the Wildcats 2019 superstar Lynn Bowden is free to play his slash role minus the quarterback duties. This means more traditional play from Stoops's offense and certainly a much better team. Kentucky finished 8-5 in 2019, but with Mac at the helm, maybe the Wildcats put up a better fight and finish with a second consecutive 10-win season.
Just over a year ago stands the day many Alabama fans would rather forget. Tua Tagovailoa struggling on the 16-yard line after being crushed by two Bulldog defenders in Starkville, Mississippi.
With one Tagovailoa gone for the rest of his Alabama football career, another would step in to officially begin his. For on the sidelines of that very game was Tua's younger brother Taulia, who had seen a fair share of his own snaps by the midway point of the season.
With Mac Jones in Nashville, Tennessee handling the Vanderbilt Commodores, Taulia would be the backup quarterback for the Crimson Tide and remain as such.
Would the Crimson Tide's season end any differently? Maybe. Auburn did squeak by on two Mac Jones pick-sixes in the Iron Bowl. Maybe those particular throws don't happen and Taulia sends the Tide to Atlanta.
The only definitive result is Taulia not transferring to Maryland. Taulia is the starting quarterback of the 2020 Crimson Tide as a sophomore ready to etch his own legacy at the feet of Denny Chimes.
Joey Gatewood and Terry Wilson
Terry Wilson isn't the playmaker Mac Jones is. Even if Jones's numbers take a massive dip due to the talent around him, he's still a better quarterback. Whether Wilson sticks around is a difficult thing to predict because his personality, at least from an outside perspective, is rather reserved.
However, Jones would impact yet another transfer quarterback, this time Joey Gatewood. After inexplicably being passed over in favor of Bo Nix, Gatewood would still justifiably want out of Auburn. However, with a consistent quarterback in Lexington, Gatewood would have to look elsewhere for a chance at playing time. Maybe since Taulia would be scoring his touchdowns in Tuscaloosa, Gatewood would take his place in Maryland?
Kentucky vs. Alabama 2020
This Saturday we see the legacy of Taulia Tagovailoa take on the scrappy underdog in Mac Jones. Jones isn't the Heisman Trophy favorite, instead, it's Taulia Tagovailoa who is picking up right where his Miami Dolphin sibling did.
Kentucky, honestly, is probably 6-1, maybe 7-0, vying for the SEC East. Be real, we know Mac Jones is gifted between the ears. If his skill players wouldn't be anything to write home about, his offensive line would be. It sounds improbable because, frankly, it's Kentucky, but in a world of "What Ifs," you just never know.
With the game still yet to be played, who knows how Mac Jones would fair against the team he could have been with. Odds are, Alabama walks out victorious, but not after Nick Saban would be reassured that at least offering a scrawny, vanilla looking quarterback from a tough high school in Jacksonville was worth it.
Shocking, isn't it? Nick Saban and Steve Sarkisian took a guy who was the 399th best player in the country, the 18th best quarterback according to 247Sports, a lanky 6'2" 180-pound quarterback and turned him into a star.
Everyone scratched their heads and gave Mac Jones such a slim margin to see true success, even when he displayed it in full view in 2019.
Saban looks like a genius.
Stoops and Kentucky are just left with regret.