Fair or not, A.J. McCarron was largely viewed as a "game manager" last season during Alabama's national title run.
All of that changed on Jan. 9, 2012, when McCarron lit up LSU's secondary in the BCS National Championship Game, completing 23 of his 34 passes for 234 yards en route to Offensive MVP honors.
He won't have the passing stats of USC's Matt Barkley, and he doesn't have the dual-threat capabilities that Missouri's James Franklin possesses, but there's no doubt about it that McCarron is one of the nation's top quarterbacks.
When McCarron first enrolled at Alabama from St. Paul's Episcopal in Mobile, Ala., he had the reputation of a gunslinger with a ton of confidence in his ability to make plays—even ones that weren't there.
McCarron still has that big arm at his disposal, but that's not what makes him an elite quarterback.
It's everything else he does.
First and foremost, it's trust.
McCarron trusts his running backs and his offensive line. In the SEC, the path of least resistance—especially when you have the best offensive line in the country—is to run the ball and play defense.
Every quarterback has confidence in his own ability, and McCarron is no different. But it takes an elite quarterback to dial down that confidence for the good of the team.
McCarron also uses that to his advantage.
He sells play-action as well as any quarterback in the conference, and no matter who's in charge of Alabama's offense, McCarron almost always finds his safety valve if needed.
McCarron isn't the most mobile quarterback in the world, but he feels pressure when it's coming, is adept at eluding it while keeping his eyes downfield and makes great throws on the run.
He's also a smart quarterback.
We saw that in the national championship game, as he made some NFL-caliber throws on a very good LSU secondary, including several deep outs and back-shoulder throws down the sideline.
He may not get the Heisman hype that statistical freaks like Barkley get, and he may not play in a system that lends itself for a Heisman run.
But make no mistake, McCarron is an elite quarterback who deserves the hype of some of the other signal-callers in the country.
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