TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron is not going to win the Heisman Trophy. Face it. It’s not going to happen. He might get invited to the ceremony to watch Jameis Winston or Johnny Manziel win it, but he won’t win the trophy. If, on the off-chance, he does win it, it would be on par with John Wayne winning an Academy Award: a trophy for his body of work. But that doesn’t matter. While Manziel is legally signing autographs and legitimately signing with agents after declaring for the NFL Draft and Winston is preparing for baseball season, McCarron will most likely be preparing for his third consecutive national title appearance.
He has the potential to be the most decorated - in wins, not individual awards - quarterback in the modern era. No team has won three consecutive BCS titles, and McCarron could be the most underappreciated player in the last decade. And after becoming the all-time passing leader in Alabama history, he could be the most important player ever for Alabama.
This past weekend as Alabama trounced LSU, its most competitive foe to date 38-17, McCarron was ruthlessly efficient. But he only threw for 179 yards and three touchdowns, which is unremarkable for the other Heisman frontrunners. Just as an example, Johnny Manziel had 162 yards passing, 34 yards rushing and two passing touchdowns in the first quarter alone on Saturday. McCarron has always been the quarterback glanced over by the media, a player whose success seems to be built primarily on the system and the process that surrounds him. But his head coach disagrees, and it’s clear that Nick Saban appreciates everything he’s gotten from his starting quarterback.
“I think AJ’s probably the most underrated player in college football,” Saban said on College Gameday, Saturday morning. “People talk about statistics all the time, and maybe his statistics are not what somebody else’s are, but really what you should equate things with are production, performance, efficiency, consistency and winning. That’s really what it’s all about, and he’s done that better than I think anybody in college football.”
McCarron’s victories - 33-2 as a starter - are predicated on offensive balance and a stringent defense but never solely based upon his actions. There’s a reason Alabama has only had one Heisman winner in its storied history: Regardless of coach, the team wins and its individual stars are a factor in the victory, but these players rarely stand out like they would on other teams. By now, McCarron has a bachelor’s degree in “the Process” and Sabanspeak, but it’s clear that his lack of recognition irks him. When asked about whether or not he should be considered for the Heisman Trophy after Saturday’s game, the senior quarterback did what many Alabama fans do to win arguments: list their national championship wins.
“I’ve won two national championships in a row,” McCarron said. “If that wasn’t a distraction, I don’t think an individual award would be a distraction.”
The reason that McCarron won’t win the Heisman and the reason that he has been so successful at Alabama is because he is a product of the team, and he always will be, even in the NFL.
“I really love Coach [Saban],” McCarron said. “I try to buy into his system as much as possible. I try to be the best leader for this team and put the team first.”
After the clock ran out on Saturday night, Saban ran over to McCarron and they leapt into each other’s arms like the Bryan Brothers or a scene from an emotional 1990s movie about overcoming obstacles. The chest-bump jump-hug was a cathartic moment between an amateur franchise quarterback and the coach who smiles less than most.
“Look, AJ and I have been through a lot. Some of it you’ve seen on TV, some of it you haven’t,” Saban said. “He’s done a great job for us. There’s nobody that I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach that’s more into the game, a better competitor.”
McCarron won’t win the Heisman Trophy. He might not even be a first round pick in next year’s NFL Draft, but he’ll always have his career at Alabama. While he may not have any individual awards, he’ll always have some serious hardware wrapped around his fingers to remember his time as the greatest boring, game-managing, clutch, reliable quarterback in college football history.