One of the most intriguing storylines of next week’s BCS Championship Game surrounds Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and his quest to lead the Crimson Tide to back-to-back national titles.
Should he become the first quarterback to accomplish this feat in the BCS era, his legacy at the Capstone would be cemented with a senior season left to boot.
But next year would be the ultimate victory lap, with his final season consisting of piloting college football’s first modern dynasty.
Before those visions can be realized, there’s some unfinished business with top-ranked Notre Dame to tend to on Monday night.
While McCarron has positioned his team with an opportunity to make history, the question becomes which version can Tide fans expect to see when they take the field against the Irish?
Will they see the unhinged maverick that picked apart LSU in last season’s title game, or the quarterback that was largely average against the last three ranked clubs the Tide faced this season?
McCarron threw an equal amount of touchdowns and interceptions (three) in those trio of games, and he completed only 59 percent of his passes in those games (compared to nearly 67 percent for the season).
The passing attack was largely held in check against the likes of LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia. To McCarron’s credit, he showed his mental toughness by finding a way to rally his team to victories in two of those three games where he and the offense didn’t play well.
That is not surprising considering we are talking about a signal-caller that sports a 24-2 career record entering the clash with the Irish.
His blistering start to the 2012 season was enough to quiet his cynics and even generated some buzz for his potential candidacy for the Heisman Trophy. But in the final month of the season, he clearly looked different from the passer that threw 18 touchdowns and no interceptions before November.
While a number of factors going on around McCarron (injuries to the receiver unit and running back Eddie Lacy being the most noteworthy issues) contributed to his struggles, a similar effort on offense against the best defense Alabama has faced to this point could shatter the team’s dreams of repeating.
With those concerns in mind, does Nick Saban trust McCarron to aggressively go after Notre Dame’s secondary, similarly to how he jumped on LSU in last season’s title game?
Or should the Crimson Tide ride their road-grading offensive line, and let them pave the way for the powerful running back tandem of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon like they did in last month’s SEC title-clinching victory over Georgia?
The answers to those questions remain to be seen.
But, given McCarron’s unflappable performance on the big stage a year ago, plus his resume since taking the reins to a program that is college football’s current king, expect him to shake his recent struggles and deliver an effort fitting of a champion on Monday night.