With only one game left in his celebrated career, the legacy of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron is a subject sure to be a central theme surrounding the Tide’s Sugar Bowl matchup against No. 11 Oklahoma.
Even though it isn’t the stage he or his teammates were hoping for, a win would put a bow on one of the most successful college careers by a quarterback in the history of the sport.
While he’s consistently spoken about his desire to put team goals above individual ones, the recent Maxwell Award winner has put together a resume that is unrivaled among great quarterbacks in Tide history and places him among the greatest college signal-callers of all time.
Whether it's wins (36-3 as a starter), stats (Alabama’s all-time leading passer) or championships (three national titles, including two as a starter), McCarron has a wealth of accomplishments under his belt.
But his lasting impact goes beyond all of his accomplishments. McCarron has been a lightning rod for fans and media who questioned whether he was an elite quarterback or simply another product of Nick Saban’s machine, who was more caretaker than catalyst to the Tide’s rise to college football’s mountaintop.
However, Alabama fans revere him as a winner and one of the foremost symbols of the Tide’s recent dynasty.
Off the field, he’s a pillar in the community who uses his celebrity to impact the lives of others in a positive way—such as his bond with four-year-old leukemia survivor Starla Chapman, according to ESPN’s Mark Schlabach.
His college career will conclude in the Louisiana Superdome on Jan. 2 against the Sooners, but it’s on that same field where his legend truly began.
With the Tide earning a rematch against the powerful LSU team who beat them in Tuscaloosa two months earlier, McCarron entered the game as a question mark in the Tide’s hopes to win a national title.
Saban unleashed an attacking game plan that put the game, and the Tide’s title hopes, in McCarron’s hands. All he did was finish 23-of-34 passing for 234 yards and earn offensive MVP honors in the Tide’s 21-0 victory.
It was a performance that proved he could become a dominant performer on the big stage. The last two years have been filled with memorable moments from the Mobile native.
Last season, he piloted a climactic, game-winning drive in the final minute at LSU. Even after the Tide lost to Texas A&M a week later, they rebounded and clinched a BCS title berth thanks in part to McCarron’s late touchdown pass in the SEC title game victory over Georgia. Against Notre Dame in the BCS title game, McCarron was once again flawless as the Tide rolled to a 42-14 win and its third crystal football in the last four years.
This year, he emerged from the early season mega showdown at Texas A&M with a career-high 334-yard, four touchdown effort in a 49-42 win. Despite the heartbreaking loss to archrival Auburn in the season finale that essentially crushed the Tide’s dreams of a three-peat, McCarron put together a season that helped him finish second in the Heisman Trophy race.
Arguing his place in history is sure to be a debate that rages on well after the Sugar Bowl.
McCarron doesn’t have the flash of recent great college quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel or Robert Griffin III. Also, he's not a lock to be the No. 1 pick of the NFL draft as Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford were.
But even his staunchest critics cannot argue against the success he’s had and what Alabama was able to accomplish during his career at the Capstone.
If he ends his career on a high note with a win over Oklahoma, he will exit Tuscaloosa with as many national championship rings as career losses. Considering his sterling record at Alabama and his ability to step up in pressure moments throughout his career, winning is the singular trait that will ultimately define his college legacy.
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