McCarron Deserves Heisman Consideration
By Mark Mayfield
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s just turned November, and already the usual suspects are awarding the Heisman Trophy to players who have yet to be tested through the grinding final stretch of the college football season.
Remember Andrew Luck, Colt McCoy, Terrelle Pryor, and Matt Barkley? Yeah … weren’t they all at some point the favorites to haul away the big trophy?
To be fair, Mark Ingram, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel had emerged to varying degrees as their Heisman-winning seasons progressed. But it took huge late-season performances for them to secure the award.
Manziel, for instance, wrapped it with an upset win over Alabama on Nov. 10, 2012. The Heisman wasn’t Ingram’s until his performance in the SEC title game against Florida on Dec. 5, 2009.
Given the pay-to-play accusations hanging over Cam Newton during the 2010 season, would he have won the trophy without beating Alabama in late November? And who can forget RGIII’s game-winning 34-yard touchdown throw to beat Oklahoma with just seconds remaining in that game on Nov. 19, 2011.
Let’s be clear about this: November and early December games (conference title contests) matter … a lot.
So let me throw out a name that most analysts are quick to overlook when discussing the Heisman race: AJ McCarron.
We’ve all heard the reasoning as to why McCarron can’t win it: He’s a system quarterback surrounded by great talent. He doesn’t have the passing numbers. After all, Bama runs a balanced offense, not to mention the Crimson Tide blows teams away so often that McCarron rarely plays a full game.
And then there’s the phrase that sounds so intelligent, but actually is far more complicated to analyze than experts would have you believe: “arm strength.” If throwing a football 50 yards under pressure with accuracy is one measure, McCarron has done that. Remember his 54-yard throw to Kenny Bell late in last season’s game with A&M? And check out his 44-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Amari Cooper in the SEC title game last December.
McCarron may not have the best arm strength among college quarterbacks, but he has gone deep with the ball far more than most realize. And he finished the 2012 season as the nation’s leader in passing efficiency (175.3 rating), throwing for 30 touchdowns, nearly 3,000 yards, and just three interceptions. Did you catch that? He threw 10 TIMES as many TD passes as interceptions.
OK, that was last year. The Heisman must be decided on what he has done this season (though I would argue in McCarron’s case his overall career at Alabama should be considered). This year, he has thrown 16 TDs and just three interceptions. He has a nearly 70 percent completion percentage, and has directed his team to an 8-0 record. Oh, and he’s 33-2 as a starter, and has a chance to become the first quarterback in college football history to win back-to-back-to-back national championships.
A game manager? Ask Texas A&M players if McCarron was a game manager when he threw for four touchdowns and 334 yards in the Tide’s 49-42 victory at College Station in September. Ask LSU players if McCarron was a game manager when he completed three crucial first down passes on the Tide’s final 72-yard drive with no timeouts in the final minute, to come from behind and defeat the Tigers in Baton Rouge last year.
This season, McCarron and his team have rarely been pushed. But Alabama would not be undefeated right now if McCarron hadn’t kept the Tide’s offense scoring against A&M. Does anyone seriously believe Alabama would be contending for a three-peat title this season without McCarron at quarterback?
So, with all due respect to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Florida State’s Jameis Winston, and A&M’s Johnny Manziel, McCarron should be given serious consideration for the Heisman. Will he win it? The conventional “wisdom” is no. But, again, remember these words: November and December.
How will Mariota do against Stanford, Utah, Arizona, Oregon State and maybe against Arizona State in a Pac-12 championship game? Winston threw a couple of interceptions against Miami last Saturday, but still led his team to a big win. How will he do against Florida's defense? Then in the ACC title game against Miami again, or Duke? How will Manziel do in road games against LSU and Missouri?
And yes, how will McCarron perform against LSU and Auburn and against either Missouri, South Carolina or Georgia in the SEC title game?
After the Arkansas game, I asked McCarron how he’s feeling heading into the final stretch of the season.
“Every opponent's really faceless," he said. "I don’t really care who’s next on the list. Just go out and do what we’ve got to do to win a ballgame.”