There was a time when coaches might say that it doesn’t matter who starts but who finishes, even though everybody knew that was a load of baloney.

Back then, the guy who started almost always was the guy who finished. Starters started and played, and backups warmed the bench, drank the Gatorade and waited hopefully that the starter got hurt — or stayed healthy, depending on the backup’s nerves.

Now, coaches have discovered it’s much easier to keep reserve players interested in practice, in shape and ready to contribute if they play regularly. Also, with regular rest, starters don’t have to pace themselves quite so much to make it through a whole game. Instead, they can go hard until they’re tired, then they get a break.

On Thursday, we got a prime example of how much it apparently doesn’t matter if you start. The Southeastern Conference football coaches named their preseason all-league team, and the first-team tight end is Alabama sophomore O.J. Howard.

Who is a back-up.

Senior tight end Brian Vogler is the Tide’s starter, as he was last year. He started 12 of 13 games. Howard started against Tennessee-Chattanooga when Vogler was hurt. Howard also started four other times when Alabama opened the game with two tight ends.

But at Alabama, Vogler is considered the top tight end, while Howard is No. 2.

The other 13 SEC coaches apparently disagree — coaches aren’t allowed to vote for their own players on the team, so Nick Saban couldn’t name either of his guys on his ballot.

In the end, Howard may be better than Vogler. But, maybe, possibly, who starts doesn’t matter as much as who finishes.

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter @MarkSportsStar.