Alabama Crimson Tide: Matt Barkley



TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It should come as no surprise AJ McCarron has opted to return to the University of Alabama for his senior season. While the junior quarterback is among the best -- and maybe more appropriately the most efficient -- signal-callers in the country, his play down the stretch has done little to help his NFL draft stock.

As coach Nick Saban is oft to suggest to his players, you don't leave school early unless you are poised to go in the first round of the draft. It would have come as a shock if McCarron were to come off the board that early, leapfrogging the likes of West Virginia's Geno Smith, Southern Cal's Matt Barkley, Florida State's E.J. Manuel, Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and possibly Georgia's Aaron Murray.

"To me, he certainly doesn't look like a first-round pick," ESPN college football and draft analyst Kevin Weidl explained. Weidl said he'd start with the third round for McCarron at this point: "He needs to get stronger, sturdier in the pocket and improve some accuracy issues I saw at times."

[+] EnlargeSaban-McCarron
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesHad AJ McCarron left Alabama early for the NFL, Nick Saban would have lacked a QB with experience.
McCarron was a non-factor in the last three games he played against ranked teams this season. Weidl said he looked at the film and saw his decision-making "tail off at the end." McCarron threw for a then-season-low 165 yards at LSU on Nov. 3. The next week, he struggled against Texas A&M, breaking his streak of 290-plus pass attempts without an interception by throwing two key picks in a loss to the Aggies. McCarron rebounded nicely against a pair of sub-.500 teams in Western Carolina and Auburn, only to hit the skids again against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, attempting just 21 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown.

"He showed very good maturity in looking at all of the factors and making an informed decision on his future," Saban said in a released statement. "He has a chance to add to what he has already accomplished here while also better preparing himself for the next level. We’re excited to have him back for his senior season."

By returning for another season, McCarron has the chance to solidify his position as one of the best quarterback prospects in the country. His 173.08 passer rating was tops in college football this season. The only thing remaining for him to prove is consistency and measurables he might face at the NFL combine.

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Alabama owns competition in SEC openers

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
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1. Matt Barkley has thrown 119 consecutive passes against five or more pass-rushers without an interception -- a streak that dates to Sept. 24 of last season. During that time, Barkley has thrown 18 touchdowns when opponents blitz, including four games with at least three touchdown passes. The first of those four games was against Stanford last year in Week 7, Barkley's second career three-touchdown game against the Cardinal blitz. Overall, Barkley has thrown 37 touchdowns and three interceptions against blitzes since the start of his sophomore season.

2. UL Monroe faces Auburn on Saturday after pulling off a stunning upset of Arkansas last week. In the process, the Warhawks can achieve something that hasn't been done in 24 years. The last team not currently in a BCS-AQ conference to beat SEC opponents in consecutive games was Tulane in 1988. In 1988, the Green Wave beat Ole Miss on Nov. 5 and then knocked off Mississippi State. Memphis pulled off a similar feat just a few weeks earlier in 1988, beating Mississippi State and Florida in consecutive games.

3. Alabama begins its SEC slate this week at Arkansas. On the field, Alabama has won 20 straight SEC openers, with its last loss coming in 1991 to Florida. (Note: Some of those games have since been vacated or forfeited.) How impressive is that? Not only is it the longest current win streak in conference openers, but it beats the next highest by eight. Boise State has won 12 straight conference openers dating to 2000, accomplishing that in three different conferences. The Broncos open their 2012 conference schedule on Sept. 29 at New Mexico.

4. Last week against Air Force, Denard Robinson had more total yards (426) than the entire Michigan team (422). One big reason for this was Robinson’s 218 rushing yards. The remainder of the team had minus-4. While this seems like it would be a rarity, it isn’t. In fact, he wasn’t even the only player to accomplish this last week (Temple’s Chris Coyer). Since 2004, it’s happened 25 times, and the only player to do it twice over that stretch? Indiana’s Kellen Lewis in 2007.

5. Michigan State soared into the AP Top 10 this week, and that could be bad news for its opponent this week. Notre Dame has lost nine straight games against AP Top 10 teams by an average of more than 15 points per game. The last time the Fighting Irish beat a team in the top 10 was 2005, when they knocked off No. 3 Michigan. The nine-game losing streak is the longest in Notre Dame history. The previous longest was seven games spanning 1984-86.

Watch: McShay's top five prospects

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
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Todd McShay ranks his top five prospects in college football.

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