Given AJ McCarron's outstanding track record to this point in his career, Nick Saban should feel comfortable putting the ball in his hands against Notre Dame.
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron used a dominant performance in last season’s BCS national title victory over LSU as a springboard to what has been a spectacular 2012 campaign.
With an unbeaten Notre Dame club being the only thing standing between his team’s quest to make history by repeating as national champions, Nick Saban would be wise to put the game on the shoulders of his veteran quarterback.
Whether it is because of his experience on the big stage, or because of potential matchups he can exploit in the passing game against the Irish, McCarron has shown himself to be unflappable under pressure.
Here are four reasons why Saban should put the BCS national championship in the trusted hands of his quarterback.
A quick glance at some of Alabama’s most recent victories in big games in the Saban era reveals that the Tide has shown the tendency to come out throwing to set up their bruising running game.
Saban’s team followed that script against No. 1 Florida in the 2009 SEC title game and in the aforementioned triumph against LSU 11 months ago in the Superdome—and Alabama went on to dominate both games from start to finish.
Considering McCarron’s progression this season, the case can be made that this edition of the Tide’s offense is more proficient in the passing game than previous years, and he should be able to execute that same game plan against a stingy Irish defense.
With Notre Dame’s front seven likely to be focused on trying to stop running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, McCarron is capable of taking advantage of their aggressiveness by burning the Irish through the air.
In a game that should feature two elite defenses, the Tide’s offense appears to be ahead of the Irish’s attack—with McCarron’s presence being one of the significant factors to lend credence to that theory.
Even though Notre Dame has grabbed 16 interceptions this season (tied for 17th nationally), that number is a bit misleading considering that star linebacker Manti Te’o accounted for seven of those picks.
Still, Bob Diaco’s secondary has only surrendered seven scores through the air all season, and only one receiver (Oklahoma’s Jalen Saunders) has piled up more than 100 yards against them.
However, Alabama will easily provide Notre Dame with the most balanced attack it will have seen all year—with the dynamic backfield duo mentioned earlier and McCarron proving to be one of the toughest quarterbacks in the nation to coerce into miscues.
Freshman receiver Amari Cooper gives him a game-breaking talent on the outside, while experienced veterans like wideout Kevin Norwood and tight end Michael Williams have proven to be reliable targets for McCarron over the last two years.
McCarron is 24-2 as a starter since taking over at the beginning of the 2011 season, and he elevated his game to another level after throwing for 2,669 yards and 26 touchdowns against only three interceptions.
Heading into last season’s national title matchup against an LSU team that flustered him in their regular-season meeting, McCarron proved capable of delivering on the biggest of stages by carving up a Tigers defense loaded with NFL talent.
The Irish’s defense is comparable to some of the best units McCarron has faced in his career at the Capstone.
But given his track record in big games to this point in his career, McCarron’s experience gives the Tide a decided advantage at the most important position on the field.
Last season’s title-winning Alabama squad was led by a defensive unit considered to be among the most dominant in the BCS era, and an offense that revolved around the talents of running back Trent Richardson.
This season, McCarron—with help from a veteran offensive line—has carried a noticeably younger team into position to claim the school’s third national title in four seasons, including his second in as many seasons since becoming the starter under center.
With a win, McCarron would join a short list of signal-callers to have won multiple national titles on the college level (Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier was the last to pull off that feat in 1994-95).
Given the enormous stakes on the line in Miami on Jan. 7, Saban and his staff should feel more than comfortable putting the ball in McCarron’s hands against the Irish.
After all, the results of trusting his arm to this point in his career are crystal clear.