Alabama QB AJ McCarron enters his senior season as one of the nation's top signal-callers.
For all of his accomplishments as Alabama’s starting quarterback, it’s almost easy to forget that AJ McCarron was a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender heading into the last month of the 2012 season.
After leading the Crimson Tide to back-to-back national titles, McCarron is no longer viewed as Nick Saban’s game manager. Instead, he enters 2013 as one of the nation’s top signal-callers—and a potential first-round pick, according to B/R's Matt Miller.
With his Crimson Tide favored to win their third consecutive national title, how can McCarron elevate his game to the next level and earn himself an invitation to New York City for the Heisman ceremony?
With the Tide’s first two games against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M, McCarron has a chance to grab the nation’s attention early against quality opponents.
McCarron may have the best collection of skill talent surrounding him since he’s been in Tuscaloosa, but the offensive line is retooled with three new starters.
Given his experience and the wealth of playmakers around him, Alabama may choose to air it out in the early going. Considering that Alabama has only one ranked opponent on its schedule after Week 3 (No. 13 LSU on Nov. 9), big games against the Hokies and the Aggies may be enough to put McCarron in the early lead.
McCarron’s performances in the last two BCS title games—a combined 43-of-61 for 498 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in wins over LSU and Notre Dame—illustrate his big-game ability and leadership qualities.
For him to stay in the Heisman race, it’s pivotal that he put together similar efforts against teams that figure to challenge the two-time defending national champs.
Aside from the early contests against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M, home games against SEC West rivals Ole Miss (Sept. 28) and LSU (Nov. 9) and a potential appearance in the SEC title game are McCarron’s best chances to leave an impression on Heisman voters.
Of the last five quarterbacks who have won the Heisman Trophy, only Auburn’s Cam Newton threw for less than 3,000 yards. However, while Newton fell just short of that number (2,854 yards) in 2010, he produced 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground.
Considering that McCarron is unlikely to do any significant damage in the run game, he will have to put up strong numbers through the air.
Alabama’s offense strives to be balanced, with a slight lean toward its powerful ground game. That is part of the reason why McCarron is unlikely to post eye-popping statistics. However, he did throw for 2,933 yards last season.
If McCarron can bump that figure north of 3,000 yards and maintain the efficiency he displayed last season (67 percent completion rate, 30 touchdowns), he stands a great chance to earn a trip to New York City in early December.
Although running back T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper are All-American-caliber talents, McCarron is the clear face of the Tide this season.
With Alabama’s quest for a three-peat sure to be a dominant storyline all season, the team’s success will benefit McCarron as long as he keeps piling up wins.
McCarron has always maintained a team-first attitude, and he certainly isn’t the type of player to campaign for any individual award.
However, if he can put his team in position to claim its third consecutive crystal football, a chance to win the Heisman Trophy would put an exclamation point on the career of one of the most celebrated passers in school history.