There's a lot of talk going around that A.J. McCarron is not an elite quarterback and never will be. It is a mindset which I must respectfully disagree with. He's not there yet, but on course to get there.
Will he win a Heisman Trophy? Probably not, but that doesn't mean he can't become a household name by the end of 2012. After all, he already has a national championship ring.
McCarron has a solid plan to be considered an elite college quarterback, and here are a few things I'm certain he has written down in his journal.
If there's a weakness in McCarron's game it's the long ball, but unlike his critics, I don't see it as debilitating as they do.
You have to give McCarron credit for what he was working with. His top two receivers weren't the best downfield threats.
Darius Hanks was a reliable target, but he was far too slow to get separation down field.
Marquis Maze was his favorite target in 2011, but his actual height of around 5'8" gave McCarron a window the size of a thimble to hit.
He has the arm strength and the accuracy to pull off long throws, and all he needed was serious downfield threats.
He'll have that from an impressive army of receivers, many of whom stand 6' tall or higher.
Contrary to popular belief, McCarron is a pretty clutch player. Sure, he's no Joe Montana, but he can make a play when it's needed.
I'll let his stats do the talking on this one. These are some numbers from his 2011 season.
- --Quarterback rating of 169.69 with 70.6 completion percentage in the fourth quarter.
- --No fourth quarter interceptions.
- --Converted 18 times on third and long.
- --Perfect three of three on fourth downs, including one touchdown.
- --Completed 73.3 percent of his passes when Tide was barely winning; the majority of his yardage came at this time.
- --Completed 75 percent of passes when back into own end zone with quarterback rating of 175.1.
- --Completed six passes of 25 yards or more when nearing opponents red zone.
McCarron has a habit of playing best when games are on the line, but he admittedly slacks off when the game is already getting out of hand (58.3 completion percentage when winning by 15 points or more).
Another interesting fact that isn't exactly clutch is how well he does throwing on first down, which was most evident in the national title game.
He completed 70.2 percent of his passes on first down for 1,312 yards.
If you want to prove yourself as an elite player you have to stay on the field to do it. Busted knees and concussions have a way of hindering progress.
A lot of fans are worried about what will happen to the team if McCarron gets hurt, but he does an excellent job of making sure that doesn't happen.
The Tide led the SEC in 2011 in sacks allowed with 17, all while McCarron attempted a healthy amount of passes with 328.
Most credit this to the offense line and they deserve most of it, but McCarron has great pocket awareness. He has a feel for the pocket and keeps his eyes downfield at all times. He knows where the big uglies are coming from and gets rid of the ball in time.
As a rusher, he rarely runs and always negative rushing yards, but when he does scramble, he doesn't do it foolishly. He doesn't take hard hits as he either slides properly or runs out of bounds.
Accidents can happen to anyone, but McCarron does a great job minimizing the risks he takes. It's a very underrated quality.
Alabama fans and the coaches knew they would find out what McCarron was made of when the Tide faced Penn State in week two of the 2011 season.
Unshakable was what they found.
McCarron traveled to several tough venues last season including Penn State, Florida, Mississippi State, Auburn and, of course, New Orleans.
He played like the crowd didn't exist almost the entire time. He only struggled in the Swamp, but hey, who doesn't?
Aaron Murray, Georgia.
In an previous article, "Proof That A.J. McCarron Is a Heisman-Caliber Quarterback" I made a bold claim and backed it up with comparisons to his peers, past and present.
That's OK for me to do, as a fan and writer, but McCarron isn't a bit concerned with what the other guys are doing. He is focusing on his game and his game alone.
When it comes to game preparation the opposing quarterbacks are no concern of his, and he will focus solely on their defense and what he must do to beat them.
While all the folks are talking about Georgia's Aaron Murray, Tennessee's Tyler Bray, Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and possibly LSU's Zach Mettenberger, McCarron will quietly be preparing to shred opposing defenses.
This is something he and Alabama do very well, and will continue to do so.
He didn't become the offensive MVP of the national championship game for nothing.