NEW ORLEANS — Alabama's wildly successful AJ McCarron era ends Thursday night in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma, and strangely enough, the Crimson Tide's quarterback of the future might very well reside in Norman.
Norman North's David Cornwell, a four-star prospect and the nation's fifth-best 2014 quarterback prospect according to Rivals, moves to Tuscaloosa on Sunday and will immediately enter the battle to replace McCarron, Alabama's winningest quarterback.
Junior Blake Sims is Alabama's only returning quarterback next season with any significant playing experience. The Crimson Tide also return redshirt freshman Alec Morris and true freshmen Cooper Bateman, Parker McLeod and Luke Del Rio, a former Oklahoma State commitment who chose instead to walk-on in Tuscaloosa.
“A lot of those guys have experience on me,” Cornwell said. “It'll all start (in the spring) and then be won in fall camp. I'll build on that and make a run during the fall camp.”
Cornwell's senior season at Norman North ended prematurely when he suffered a knee injury in the Timberwolves' fifth game. He said he expects to be fully recovered by the time Alabama's winter workouts begin in February.
The Crimson Tide is a year behind its opponent in Thursday's Sugar Bowl when it comes to replacing a steady, reliable winner at the all-important quarterback position.
Oklahoma enjoyed six seasons of quarterback prosperity between 2007 and 2012 with record-breakers Sam Bradford and Landry Jones, who posted a combined 63 wins and four Big 12 championships.
Junior Blake Bell, sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight competed through spring practices and fall camp to replace Jones. Knight won the job initially, but was replaced by Bell after struggling and suffering a knee injury.
Bell has looked excellent at times and dreadful at others. Knight returned to the starting lineup for the final two regular-season games, but the Sooners still haven't named a Sugar Bowl starter.
Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide gets one last game with McCarron, this year's Heisman Trophy runner-up, before it must endure a similar quarterback battle.
McCarron won 36 games in his three seasons as the starter and led the Tide to consecutive national championships in 2011 and 2012.
“That'll be a really good competition this spring,” said Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. “Really, really excited about our young players on the roster at that position. With any young quarterback there's a steep learning curve, and for those guys it's about getting snaps every day and continuing to progress.”
Oklahoma never seriously recruited Cornwell, instead choosing to pursue another local quarterback — Edmond Santa Fe's Justice Hansen. He committed to the Sooners last April.
Like Cornwell, Hansen also missed most of his senior season. Hansen suffered a high-ankle sprain in October and never returned to action.
Both Cornwell and Hansen will be at the Under Armour All-America game in Orlando, Fla., during the Sugar Bowl. Neither quarterback will play in the game itself, but both are there participating in other activities.
“Both hurt, both from Oklahoma,” Cornwell said of Hansen. “Good kid. Good to get to know him a bit more. We haven't really talked about the game. He doesn't try to trash talk you at all.”