TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No one here can tell you who is going to be Alabama's starting quarterback. The coach won't. The players can't. The participants themselves in the sport's No. 1 offseason storyline? Well, you couldn't ask them if you wanted to.
Incumbent Jalen Hurts and rising sophomore Tua Tagovailoa are off limits to the media.
But occasionally, hints are dropped.
"When Tua came in, it was just very encouraging," said All-SEC senior guard Ross Pierschbacher, who on the field in January when Tagovailoa, a true freshman, dropped into the huddle at halftime, his team down 13-0 to Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
"I remember one drive when things weren't looking very good," Pierschbacher continued. "He got down on a knee in the huddle and said, 'We're going to win this game.' He said, 'Trust me, guys. We're going to win this game.'
"He truly believed that."
The Tide, of course, did win -- in one of the most dramatic championship game finishes in the history of any sport.
Tagovailoa's huddle inspiration that night wasn't exactly George Gipp on his deathbed stuff, but you get the point. Something close to a legend was born.
"For the guys around him," Pierschbacher said of Tagovailoa, "I think we all kind of changed at that moment."
Tagovailoa replaced Hurts and rallied Bama to a 26-23 overtime win; everything seems to have changed. Hurts is watching his rear-view mirror. Scores of Alabama fans are looking forward to future that includes Tagovailoa.
"It's hard not to think about the possibilities," Pierschbacher said. "Right now, we're just throwing darts figuring out what's going to happen. "
It's safe to say the college football world has figured out which way this is going to go: It's only a matter of time before the bubbly kid from Hawaii replaces Hurts, who would then logically transfer.
If only it were that easy.
"Sometimes, I feel like both guys can make a contribution," Saban suggested. "Maybe there is room for that."
Wow, the quarterbacks sharing time next season? That statement threatens to break the internet even before Saturday's A-Day spring game.
- How do you just dismiss the contributions of Hurts, who is 26-2 as a starter? If Hurts is able to graduate in December, he could conceivably emerge in January somewhere else as a graduate transfer. If not, he could transfer to an FCS school and be eligible immediately. Otherwise, he'd have to sit out the traditional year in residence if transferring to an FBS school.
- A position change for Hurts doesn't seem likely, but being an NFL quarterback doesn't seem to be in his future either. Tagovailoa is considered the more effective thrower.
- Any quarterback battle may be on hold. Saban announced this week that Tagovailoa had suffered a "setback" in his recovery from a broken bone in the second metacarpal of his left (throwing) hand.
"That doesn't enhance the process," Saban said of the injury. "I'm not trying to keep a daily scorecard because it's not really a level playing field right now because one guy [is injured]. We can't just throw him out there and put him at risk."
This has become The Year of Quarterback Battles -- Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, USC, Florida. Feel free to add any others.
The starters for two playoff teams -- Clemson (Kelly Bryant) and Georgia (Jake Fromm) -- face challenges from the top two recruits in the country in Justin Fields (Georgia) and Trevor Lawrence (Clemson).
If this was a streaming series, Netflix would be all over it. And Alabama would be able to pitch the best script.
Tagovailoa's upside seems to have everyone around Tuscaloosa excited. There is a general feeling he has a better overall game than Hurts. In limited action, Tagovailoa has shown to be a better downfield thrower. Small sample size, though. Before leading the comeback against Georgia, Tagovailoa had thrown all of 53 passes.
His last against the Dawgs was one for the ages. Tagovailoa dropped a 41-yard dime to fellow freshman DeVonta Smith between Georgia corner Malkolm Parrish and safety Dominic Sanders.
Suddenly, the kid was a national champion before he had started a game.
"We've seen Tua make that throw a million times in practice," Alabama tailback Damien Harris said. "It was just that it was under the circumstances -- in the national championship game, on second-and-26, in overtime."
Truth be told, Tagovailoa was good, not great that night even though he threw for 166 yards and three touchdowns. With his team down by 13 in the third quarter, he threw a crippling interception. That 16-yard sack in overtime was beyond crippling. Almost.
"You can never take a sack in overtime," Saban said. "We just needed a field goal to stay in the game. We basically can just tie the game if we just ran the quarterback sneak.
"I said, 'What were you thinking? You should have thrown the ball away.' He says he just needed more room to throw. I said, 'That shit ain't funny.'"
Another reason why Tagovailoa just seems to have that "it" factor? He is a curiosity from halfway around the world who can keep this dynasty humming. His family has moved from the islands to be with him in T-Town. A younger brother -- four-star quarterback Taulia -- may follow Tua to Bama. He is currently uncommitted.
A Honolulu radio station has jumped on board, joining the Crimson Tide Radio Network this season just because of Tagovailoa.
"As Tua improved and developed, I got to the point toward the end that if I thought we were struggling, I had enough confidence in him," Saban said. "It just happened to be in the national championship game that it occurred."
In February, Houston coach Major Applewhite stood at a dry erase board in his office, amazed. He was diagramming the game-winning play against Georgia, called "Jill Y Seattle" at Alabama.
"Tua did a great job selling it," said Applewhite, Saban's first offensive coordinator at Alabama in 2007.
Four Alabama receivers went deep. Tagovailoa initially had to look off Sanders who was covering on the back end. With a slight flip of his hips, Tagovailoa does just that. That left Parrish -- expecting deep help -- floundering as Smith blew by.
Applewhite said he'd been trying to convince Saban to use spread principles 10 years ago. Now, he's jealous.
"Now you've got Jalen and Tua," Applewhite said.
Well, for now.
If Hurts is considered limited in these parts, it would be hard to say it to his face. He's put in the time, chased championships, stayed humble and kept his head down. And now, here comes the kid.
"They're two totally different guys," Harris said. "Everybody knows Jalen has an ice-cold demeanor. Tua is a little more energetic, a little more playful."
In the national championship postgame, Tagovailoa marveled,
"I don't know how Coach Saban found me in Hawaii for Alabama."
It would also be hard to deny the luck that went into the comeback. The leading passer (Tagovailoa), rusher (Najee Harris) and receiver (Smith) were all freshmen.
That's not counting true freshman Alex Leatherwood, who came in at left tackle.
"In my mind, those guys weren't freshmen when we got to the playoffs," Saban said. "They didn't start but they played all year."
"For a program that gets killed relative to our competition [with rival recruiters] saying, 'You can't play there,' it speaks volumes," Saban added. "We played 17 freshmen last year. I always tell players, 'I know you always look at the players that are here now. But there are also going to be players come in behind you and make a significant impact.'"
They call it getting recruited over. Coaches are always trying to get better, loyalty be damned.
"It's kind of understood," Harris said. "They don't really tell you that in recruiting, but when you get here, it's made known that business in business. At the end of the day, whether they like you or not, they're trying to win football games."
Saban has done this before. He has waited until the season begins to name his starter in previous years. A.J. McCarron took over in 2011 during the second game of the season after winning at Penn State. Hurts' career began in the third series of the 2016 season against USC. He promptly fumbled before accounting for four touchdowns in a 52-6 win.
Ideally, Saban wants to settle on a starter long before the opener against Louisville. Resumes aren't going to win this battle. This is a race to win hearts in the huddle and minds in the coaches' room.
No one here can tell you who Alabama's next starting quarterback is going to be. But Pierschbacher has a vision of which way the race will go.
"Hungry dogs run faster," he said.