Coming off a season where he led the Crimson Tide to a national title, Alabama QB AJ McCarron is ready to silence his critics that feel he doesn't belong in the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the SEC.
Coming off a season in which he led his team to a national championship in his first year as a starter, it would seem logical to think that Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron has very little to prove heading into 2012.
The flip side to that line of thinking is that the rising junior has two more years to fine-tune his game, and eventually carve a legacy that would place him among the greatest signal-callers in school history.
With the Crimson Tide’s offense in a state of transition due to the loss of nearly its entire collection of skill players—plus breaking in a new offensive coordinator in Doug Nussmeier—McCarron will be counted on heavily to step up and take his game to the next level if Nick Saban’s ball club has hopes of repeating as national champions.
What changes can McCarron make to help him top the year (completed more than 66 percent of his passes, 2,634 yards passing, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions) he put together last season ?
Here are five ways McCarron can improve his game.
McCarron was named the BCS title game's offensive MVP after he dismantled an elite LSU defense.
Coming into the BCS National Championship game against top-ranked LSU, McCarron had acted mostly as a caretaker for an offense built around the talents of all-world running back Trent Richardson.
After a masterful performance (23-for-34, 234 yards passing) where he carved up LSU’s vaunted secondary en route to the Crimson Tide’s 21-0 victory sealing their second national title in three seasons, he showed that he can perform on the biggest of stages.
With Richardson and both starting wide receivers from last year gone, McCarron has to be able to play with the fire and confidence he displayed against the Tigers in New Orleans.
If he can consistently perform at the level he displayed in that game, Alabama’s offense could be more dangerous than last season’s unit.
Without Richardson and having a new cast of receivers, the spotlight will fall on McCarron to become the focal point on Alabama's offense.
In a conference filled with elite defenses (five SEC teams finished in the top 10 nationally in total defense), McCarron was able to finish third in passing in 2011—trailing only Tyler Wilson of Arkansas and Aaron Murray of Georgia.
While Wilson and Murray have received their fair share of attention and accolades nationally, McCarron (perhaps unfairly) is rarely mentioned in the same breath as a candidate to be the top passer in the SEC this fall.
Without Richardson around to carry the load offensively, McCarron has a chance this year to showcase his talents—and make it a three-man race to crown the best quarterback in the SEC in 2012.
Junior Kenny Bell is the leader of a new wide receiver group that McCarron must build chemistry with before the season begins.
With the Crimson Tide having to break in a new pair of starters at wide receiver, McCarron will be entrusted to help ease the process of their transition.
Despite losing veterans Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, the group as a whole has a nice mix of talent, youth and experience.
Last year, the receiver unit produced largely average numbers (only two receptions of more than 40 yards and just seven touchdowns were scored by receivers in 2011).
This year, McCarron is more comfortable as a passer—which should help the entire receiving unit’s development this fall.
Along with veteran offensive lineman Barrett Jones, McCarron will have to step up and become the team's leader on offense.
Last season, McCarron was a new starter on an offense filled with veterans surrounding him—whereas this season, he and his offensive line are the elder statesmen.
After his virtuoso performance in the national title game, there are no doubts that this is now McCarron’s team.
Having the best offensive line in the nation—led by All-American center and senior Barrett Jones—will help solve a lot of problems that an offense could possibly face, but whenever things get tough this season, it will undoubtedly look to its quarterback for direction.
McCarron must be able to beat defenses over the top if they try and sell out against the run.
As noted above, the Alabama offense was rarely able to create big plays in the passing game.
Another stat that illustrates this fact was that nine of McCarron’s 16 touchdown passes went to either tight ends or running backs.
Considering Alabama’s strength on the offensive line—and the fact that running back Eddie Lacy is the most seasoned of the likely starters amongst the new skill players—the Crimson Tide are likely going to see opposing defenses stack the box in an effort to stop the run.
McCarron simply has to be able to make defenses pay if they choose to do so.