- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's an argument to be made that AJ McCarron is the most underrated star in college football. It has been made numerous times and perhaps you've heard it before. It's short and goes something like this: two national championship rings, the most efficient passer in the country, a really gutsy winner.
But this is not about whether McCarron is the best quarterback in the game and where he ranks among college football's best. It's not about whether he should have placed higher in the Heisman Trophy balloting. It's not even about where he'll rank at Alabama when his career at Alabama comes to a close on Jan. 2 at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
No, this isn't about AJ McCarron at all. It's about C.J. Mosley -- the other guy at Alabama -- and whether he'll ever be fully appreciated for the bona fide star he became at The Capstone.
Players recognize Mosley's worth. His teammates didn't have to give him the Unsung Hero Award at their annual team banquet. Instead, they voted him Outstanding Defensive Performer, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Inspiring Player and Most Valuable Player. "He controls everything," according to defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, from calling plays to making adjustments on the fly. Without Mosley, Alabama doesn't rank in the top five nationally in yards allowed, first downs and touchdowns surrendered.
Talent evaluators recognize Mosley's worth. Every time he has put a helmet and shoulder pads on this season he has been arguably the most NFL ready player on the field. He's one of the most athletic sideline-to-sideline linebackers in the country, coming in around a 4.6-second 40-yard dash. And he has a nose for the ball with 100-plus tackles in consecutive seasons -- a feat no player has accomplished at Alabama in the past decade. ESPN's Scouts Inc. rates him the sixth-best draft eligible prospect in the country, trailing only Texas A&M's Jake Matthews in the SEC.
Coaches recognize Mosley's worth. You can forget the game for a minute. Nick Saban doesn't trust important things to just anyone. But as he told reporters earlier in this year, "I trust C.J. to do anything -- watch my kids, take care of my house. … C.J. is just so conscientious about everything he does that you know he’s going to execute and do it exactly like you told him to do it."
Still, when the conversation inevitably turns to Alabama, how often does Mosley's name come up? He won the Butkus Award and was a back-to-back unanimous All-American this year, but it's usually McCarron or Saban's face that is flashed on the screen in those moments spent talking the Tide. Mosley is more often left to the in-depth X's and O's talk, a fine piece of art appreciated only by connoisseurs and not laymen.
But why? He has done everything McCarron has, only longer, as he played in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2010, earning first-team Freshman All-America honors. He has won two national championship rings, rarely ever missed a tackle or an assignment and is just as gutsy a competitor as McCarron. It's no cliche to say he was the quarterback of the defense -- a unit that annually ranked in the top 10 of every major statistical category.
With two more tackles, he'll pass Hall of Fame selection Woodrow Lowe for the third-most career tackles in school history. With 15 tackles, he'll have the record all to himself.
It might be too early to appreciate fully what Mosley has done in his career at Alabama, but at least there are those around that understand what he has accomplished in four years in Tuscaloosa. He wasn't ever the face of a program, he never was a Heisman Trophy contender, and he couldn't ever unseat his own quarterback in a popularity contest. But when the overrated/underrated conversation dissipates in the years to come, he'll be remembered as one of the very best to play the game.
The argument for McCarron can rage on all it likes. Just remember that the other guy at Alabama deserves a mention, too.
3dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough