- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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AJ McCarron doesn't have a Heisman Trophy and has yet to pass for 3,000 yards in a season. While Alabama's quarterback isn't exactly a tree on the field, his feet don't really get him out of many situations.
But none of that matters when it comes to McCarron's game. He would probably like to not be tracked down by 310-pound monsters from time to time, but he makes up for it with his incredible smarts, tremendous passing and unquestioned winning ability.
When it comes to the discussion of the best quarterback in the SEC, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel -- the reigning Heisman winner -- gets a majority of the publicity, and for good reason. He was the best player in the country last season, broke a ton of records and became the first freshman to take home college football's most coveted award. But McCarron quietly puts himself in the conversation and might slip past Johnny Football this fall.
An argument that always comes up with McCarron is that he plays in a system that doesn't ask him to do much. With Alabama's pounding running game, McCarron is considered more of a game manager than anything else.
Early in his career, that might have been the case, but it's just not true anymore. McCarron is easily the most talented college quarterback Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has worked with since he had JaMarcus Russell at LSU, and he's been given more control and responsibility. McCarron has great arm strength, can make the tough throws and has evolved from a player who pressed too much in sticky situations. He has the kind of mechanics pro scouts drool over and has slowly helped Alabama transition to a more downfield passing game.
If it's so easy for Alabama quarterbacks, then Saban's former signal-callers would have multiple BCS titles. They don't. McCarron has won two straight and is looking for a third. Yes, he's had a lot to work with, but Alabama isn't 25-2 with McCarron under center without McCarron's brain and arm.
Alabama will always be a run-first team, but Saban is expanding McCarron's game because he trusts his tremendously reliable quarterback. McCarron just doesn't make a lot of mistakes. His 10-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season screams that. Along with his 2,933 passing yards, McCarron threw 30 touchdowns (an Alabama record) to just three interceptions. He was also the nation's most efficient passer, with a QB rating of 175.3.
McCarron's teammates feed off his excitement and leadership. Look at how he led arguably his greatest drive ever in last season's last-minute comeback victory over LSU. Look how calm he was in his first national championship game. Look at how he rebounded after that loss to Texas A&M last season. Look at the dominance he showed with his arm against Notre Dame in January's BCS title game.
He's the ultimate competitor and leader. You won't see McCarron getting in trouble away from the field, and he knows how to trouble opponents on it.
He isn't as gifted an athlete as Manziel or some of the other SEC quarterbacks, but few can throw a football like him and none have won like him. A 3,000-yard, 30-plus-touchdown season is very much in order for McCarron this fall, and so is another national championship.
The only flash in McCarron's game is the one coming off all his rings -- and he's earned that shine because he's been that good.
5dSam Khan Jr.