Since Nick Saban arrived at Alabama, it seems that the team has someone running their way to the Heisman Trophy every year. In 2012, however, A.J. McCarron will be throwing his way towards the coveted award.
Some may scoff at that claim, but let's be honest here. How often do the top preseason Heisman favorites actually win it?
The past three seasons, guys came out of nowhere to win it.
2009 (Heismanpundit.com): Mark Ingram, who had a solid freshman campaign backing up Glen Coffee, is nowhere to be seen on this list.
2010: Again, Cam Newton is nowhere on this list. Not even his own teammates and coaches knew what he was capable of before the season started despite his obliteration of every team in the 2009 NJCAA season and a championship.
2011: Robert Griffin III actually made the list, but most saw Baylor and said, "Move along."
Some would attribute McCarron's 2012 darkhorse Heisman outlook to the fact that he's an Alabama quarterback on a team known for running, but Andrew Luck plays on a run-first team as well.
Alabama will run the ball a lot in 2012, though possibly a bit less, and the passing game could increase substantially. Productivity in passes, as well as an increase in attempts, is likely to happen by at least some margin.
The army of high-quality wide receivers will be the cause of this, not the loss of Trent Richardson. I covered this in depth in a previous article, "Preview of the 2012 Passing Game."
There is a lot of talent and a lot of targets. If you can throw the ball, do it. Alabama will do just that in 2012, mimicking the 50/50 balance of passing and rushing they used quite effectively against LSU in the championship game.
The difference will be more completions and more long balls completed. A lot more.
McCarron will have tall, fast, long-armed receivers to catch the ball. They have much larger hit boxes than 5'10" Marquis Maze had this year. On top of that, McCarron will be a lot more experienced.
What really makes a Heisman contender is performances on big stages, and shredding the defense of the No. 1 team in the nation during a national championship en route to MVP honors and a win is a stage that doesn't get any bigger.
McCarron was beastly against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Tennessee this year, but owning an inferior team doesn't get you far. It was his performance against LSU in the first match that sort of set him apart (if you actually looked close at his play and ignored the loss).
The national championship game is what confirmed the suspicions of those that could see past Andrew Luck. McCarron is a real, quality quarterback, and he'll only be better in 2012.
He'll have the big game experience and an abnormal amount of four and five-star receivers, many with solid experience as well.
If McCarron attempts around the same amount of passes next year (328), he could easily rack up close to 4,000 yards. If a lot of those yards come during key moments in big games, McCarron could easily wind up in New York.
It's no secret that Alabama's defense will drop off some. It's practically impossible to top what they did this year. This will keep Alabama throwing, as they won't go up by 20 points nearly as often.
Or will they?
The first game of the season can be the most important for a Heisman candidate, and having a big opponent really adds to the potential fire. Mark Ingram made a statement against Virginia Tech in 2009, and Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu, who no one had heard of yet, did it this year against the Oregon Ducks.
Starting off the season with a bang goes a long way, and if McCarron can make that statement against what is projected to be a very good Michigan team, he could rocket up the watch list.
I think Montee Ball has the best chance right now, but I would not be surprised to see McCarron hoist the stiff-arm trophy.
Only time will tell, but with A.J. McCarron returning, the 2012 season looks more promising than the 2010 campaign.