AJ McCarron is in position to write most of Alabama's passing records if he can have a big year.
On the surface, it may appear that Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron may not have much left to accomplish in his final season at the collegiate level.
He has guided the Crimson Tide to back-to-back national titles and effectively shed the game-manager label attached to him after the 2011 season by throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and a school-record 30 touchdown passes in 2012.
But the Mobile, Ala., native is aiming for a three-peat and a chance to leave a legacy rivaled by few passers in college football history.
How will McCarron’s numbers look in comparison to the stellar season he put together as a junior?
Alabama’s desire to have a balanced attack may get tested this season, mainly because of McCarron’s experience and a cast of receivers that could be the best pass-catching unit Saban has ever assembled.
While the Tide return their top four receivers, including potential All-American Amari Cooper, the offensive line must replace three starters. That could lead offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to rely on the ground game to get his trench unit settled.
However, McCarron managed to put up prolific numbers a year ago with targets such as Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White and Kevin Norwood each missing significant time due to injury.
With the return of those players and the addition of talented freshman such as tight end O.J. Howard and receivers Chris Black, Raheem Falkins and Robert Foster, there will be a surplus of weapons at McCarron’s disposal.
That tips the scales toward McCarron surpassing his attempts from 2012.
Projection on Pass Attempts: Over
McCarron slightly increased his completion percentage from 66.8 as a sophomore to 67.2 as a junior.
He was able to improve his numbers despite the changeover at offensive coordinator from Jim McElwain to Nussmeier. Led by T.J. Yeldon, Alabama’s stable of running backs should continue the Tide’s dominance on the ground. In turn, McCarron’s penchant for big plays on play-action passes should only continue to grow.
His growing comfort level with Nussmeier and his receiver unit is a big reason why he can increase his accuracy this fall. Greg McElroy set a school record in 2010, completing nearly 71 percent of his passes, and it’s not out of the question for McCarron to challenge that number this year.
Projection on Completion Percentage: Over
McCarron’s 2012 total fell 55 yards short of breaking McElroy’s school record for most passing yards in a season.
Considering that McCarron didn’t throw the ball often in the second half in a number of games that were well in hand, his totals are even more impressive
The 2013 schedule could provide similar situations this season.
For example, Alabama’s four games in October are against teams that went a combined 12-35 last season and all enter this season with new head coaches. Additionally, with McCarron moving on after the season, Saban has a handful of passers fighting to take over in 2014, so he may want to get as many looks at them as possible in those situations.
However, if McCarron put up big numbers last season, he can certainly do as well if not better with another year of experience and familiarity with the offense.
Becoming Alabama’s first passer to throw for more than 3,000 yards is a realistic possibility.
Projection on Passing Yards: Over
McCarron shattered the single-season school record of 20 touchdown passes in 2012.
His total of 30 finished tied for 14th nationally. Additionally, he had four games (Western Kentucky, Tennessee, Auburn and Notre Dame) where he threw four touchdown passes.
With potentially his most talented supporting cast since he’s been under center, McCarron can further cement his standing as one of the Tide’s all-time greats by breaking his own record for passing touchdowns.
Projection on Passing Touchdowns: Over
2012: 5 (three touchdowns, two fumbles)
McCarron has done an excellent job at avoiding interceptions in his two years as the Tide’s starting quarterback.
He’s thrown 46 touchdown passes against only eight interceptions in that span, including just three of his 314 pass attempts (one percent) last season.
However, he still can improve on holding onto to the ball when he’s under duress. McCarron fumbled six times in 2012, but only two were recovered by opponents. That number would increase by one if he had been held responsible for a botched exchange with T.J. Yeldon against LSU.
As dominant as the Tide’s offensive line has been recently, it has given up an average of 24 sacks per year since 2010. With a retooled offensive line, that means McCarron will have to get better at protecting the ball under pressure.
Assuming he does put the ball in the air more this season, the lack of starting experience in the trenches could lead to more opportunities for mistakes. While few would expect him to be careless with the football, expecting him to be responsible for slightly more than five turnovers is not a far-fetched assumption.
Turnovers in 2012: Over