Although the 2019 Alabama Crimson Tide will be remembered for missing out on the College Football Playoff, the transition at quarterback from Tua Tagovailoa to Mac Jones will not be pinpointed as a reason why.
Jones hasn't produced the same dizzying numbers that Tagovailoa provided until a dislocated hip at Mississippi State ended his season, but the difference has not been severe. A 6-foot-2, 205-pound redshirt sophomore from Jacksonville, Florida, Jones has completed 81 of 116 passes (69.8%) for 1,176 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions entering the Citrus Bowl against Michigan on New Year's Day in Orlando.
In his three career starts — against Arkansas, Western Carolina and Auburn — Alabama averaged 505 offensive yards, a number that could have been higher had the Tide not eased up after staking a 48-0 lead over Arkansas early in the third quarter. Jones led Alabama to 515 yards at Auburn late last month, but an Iron Bowl featuring nine lead changes left the Tide on the short end of a 48-45 thriller.
"There are a lot of things to learn from that, but I'm really looking forward," Jones said this week in a news conference. "Obviously it didn't go the way we wanted, but we're always focused on that next play and that next game. We still have one game left to show people that we can finish, even though it's not a playoff game."
Jones passed for 335 yards and four touchdowns in the Iron Bowl, but he threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns by Smoke Monday and Zakoby McClain, who took his back 100 yards. After that contest, Jones quickly said "that's on me" when asked about the turnovers, but coach Nick Saban was just as quick to praise his quarterback.
"Overall he did a really, really good job in the game," Saban said.
Once Alabama's 10-2 regular season was sealed, conversation turned to a Southeastern Conference championship game between LSU and Georgia and then a four-team playoff consisting of LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma. Last weekend, while LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was winning the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, Jones quietly graduated after less than three years and now will work on a master's degree in sports hospitality, which used to be called sports management.
Jones attained his undergraduate degree with a 4.0 grade point average.
"Our academic staff does a good job of pushing us through quickly, but in a good way," Jones said. "Three years gives you the opportunity to get more degrees. My master's program will be one year, and then you can go to another master's program, and the more degrees, the better.
"You might as well take advantage of it. Football is the main thing, but getting as many degrees as you can can't hurt."
Jones is targeting a master's in marketing after attaining one in sports hospitality.
Alabama is wrapping up its on-campus practices before taking Monday through Wednesday off and reconvening after Christmas in Orlando. Jones should have his full arsenal of weapons, with running back Najee Harris and receivers Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith each choosing to play in his first bowl game with no bearing on the national championship.
Which may be the biggest compliment Jones could have received.
"They're team guys," Jones said. "They want to play in every game and do the best for themselves, their families and their teammates. There was no doubt those guys were going to play, and it's exciting."
Alabama fifth-year senior inside linebacker Joshua McMillon, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during the first August scrimmage, announced via social media that he has received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. McMillon has not announced whether he will return to Tuscaloosa.