A.J. McCarron has been a solid quarterback for Nick Saban's system of game managers, and like McCarron's predecessor Greg McElroy, he has "managed" the Tide to the national championship, but his case is more curious.
A.J. McCarron did not have Julio Jones. Jones was the Tide's top receiver for his entire three years, and demanded so much attention that other receivers were easy to hit.
Earlier in the year, I wrote a story entitled Tide's Passing Attack Most Balanced Since Nick Saban Arrived regarding how well McCarron has spread the ball around compared to previous Tide quarterbacks under Saban, Greg McElroy and John Parker Wilson.
Well, it's time to update. As it turns out, McCarron's passing attack is among some of the most diverse in the nation.
I will set the marker at receivers with 10 or more receptions, a good, solid and metric number. Hitting many different receivers once or twice is one thing, but completing 10 passes makes a receiver a veritable threat. I will also note how many passes that team attempted.
Here are the SEC teams and their amount of receivers who hauled in 10 or more passes.
Alabama: 9-323 passing attempts
Arkansas: 7-440 passing attempts
Auburn: 6-269 passing attempts
Florida: 8-304 passing attempts
Georgia: 6-402 passing attempts
Kentucky: 5-336 passing attempts
LSU: 5-262 passing attempts
Ole Miss: 7-312 passing attempts
Mississippi State: 9-329 passing attempts
South Carolina: 7-300 passing attempts
Tennessee: 8-400 passing attempts
Vanderbilt: 6-312 passing attempts
Here are the other Top 10 BCS-ranked, non-SEC schools to compare to:
Oklahoma State: 11-553 passing attempts
Stanford: 9-386 passing attempts
Oregon: 8-362 passing attempts
Boise State: 10-441 passing attempts
Kansas State: 5-260 passing attempts
Wisconsin: 7-302 passing attempts
These are some other popular schools that are not in the Top 10 BCS standings.
Oklahoma: 10-558 passing attempts
Houston: 10-613 passing attempts
Baylor: 5-391 passing attempts
It's clear that McCarron can spread the ball around, but it should also be recognized that he is accurate as well. He is 20th in the nation with a quarterback rating of 149.8, and 19th with a completion percentage of 66.7.
The national pool is big, and the numbers can be a bit skewed. Let's make it a smaller pool, the SEC.
No. 1 SEC quarterback rating: McCarron
No. 1 SEC completion percentage: McCarron
A.J. is technically tied for third in the SEC in lowest interceptions with Ole Miss quarterback Randall Mackey, but he has only attempted 155 passes. No. 1 and No. 2 are Tennessee's Justin Worley (3 INT, 87 attempts) and Kentucky's Maxwell Smith (4 INT, 153 attempts).
So, when you look at it realistically, A.J. has the best turnover margin of all SEC quarterbacks.
There is also a curious case with McCarron's long passes. Rumor has it that he's inaccurate with the long pass. Define "inaccurate on long passes," please? Does it mean he misses his target, or does it mean he throws it up for grabs and gets picked off?
McCarron's ability to throw the long ball is incredibly underrated, and I'll tell you why. He doesn't get picked off on the long passes. They don't even get deflected. McCarron only throws the ball to a place where only his receiver has a chance to catch it. If his man can't get there then it's simply an incompletion.
A.J. McCarron is an Alabama quarterback, and well deserving of that title. I have believed since the 2011 spring practice this would happen, and Larry Burton flaunted that knowledge well before anyone else did.
As a redshirt sophomore, and a rookie, A.J. McCarron has held his own against some of the best, even surpassing some.
Will A.J. McCarron be the SEC's best quarterback in 2012?
It's not just about his ability and his numbers. He bought into Saban's system and has become a "game manager." He is a gunslinger at heart, and sometimes it gets the best of him, but for the most part he makes the throws he's supposed to, and that's what Saban wants.
A.J. put up 199 yards against LSU's vaunted turnover-machine secondary, including their No. 1 2012 NFL draft cornerback Morris Claiborne, and Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu. He gave up only one interception. He will make LSU think twice about loading the box against Richardson again.
A.J. McCarron may manage the game, but he is anything but a game manager. He is a quarterback. An Alabama quarterback.