TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It's pretty remarkable when one thinks about the journey University of Alabama quarterback Mac Jones has been on over the last 12 months.
Just a year ago, he was thrust into the starting role after the hip injury to Tua Tagovailoa with the Crimson Tide still in College Football Playoff consideration and a meeting with a top-25 Auburn squad on the Plains in only the third start of his career and first-ever road start.
Statistically, Jones delivered for Alabama on that day, completing 26 of his 39 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns, but his two pick-sixes were detrimental in the Crimson Tide's 48-45 defeat, which slammed the door shut on Alabama returning to the playoffs for a sixth-straight season.
"Last year's game was obviously really good game," Jones told the media on Monday. "We wish it was the other way around and we could have won, but that was a whole year ago and we've kind of moved on from that but it is a good learning experience. We’ve learned and we’ve applied that throughout this year so far, and we just have to continue to do that."
Since then, the Jacksonville, Fla. native has turned all doubters and nay-sayers into believers as Jones is currently in the middle of a Heisman campaign that includes 2,426 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, only three interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 95.3, which leads the nation.
Nationally, Jones ranks second in yards per attempt at 12.1 and completion percentage at 77.1 and fourth in passing yards per game at 346.6.
"You see it on TV and stuff but I'm not on social media," Jones said regarding how he handles all of the Heisman buzz. "All of that's really is a distraction. We obviously have great players here and it probably makes me look a lot better than I actually am, and there's players on our team that should be in that talk.
"They deserve the credit that they should get and we have a bunch of great players, and a lot of other schools have great players. At the end of the day, I'm sure there's people around there that listen to the talk, but you gotta just block it out, and each play do your job. And if you don't do your job on that play, there's a next play to do your job on. That’s how simple it has to be."
But Jones isn't concerned about the numbers. He doesn't care about your statistics. He doesn't worry about individual accolades. At the end of the day, what happens in the win-loss column is all that matters to the Crimson Tide signal caller.
"That's kind of always been my motto: the only stat that matters to us around here is wins and losses," Jones said. "You can look back at it, and you can have a great game or whatever people want to say, and you lose a game; to me, that's a bad game. You can throw for one yard or 500 yards, it doesn't matter, the goal is to score literally one more point than the other team, and last year we couldn't do that.
"This year, we've worked hard to just do that every game, score more points than the team and everything else will take care of itself. I feel like we've done a better job the past couple weeks, not having high expectations, going out there and trying to do our job one by one."
Jones' development and rise to college football stardom isn't a surprise to people inside the Alabama program. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban spoke highly of his quarterback's development since that loss to the Tigers almost a year ago to the day.
"I think he’s got a lot more experience, he’s got a lot more knowledge, he’s a lot more confident," Saban said. "I think the improvement is pretty obvious to everybody that watches the games. He’s been very efficient in the way his decision-making, in terms of the things that he does. We’ve been very pleased with the progress that he’s made. He’s been able to play within himself, which I think is really, really important.
"I couldn’t be more pleased with the progress that he’s made."
This year's version of the Auburn defense, led by defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, is second in defending the pass at 237 yards a game and third in scoring, only allowing 22 points each time out.
"They do a little bit of everything," Jones said. "Throughout the year they've changed a little bit, but they like to play zone, they like to play man. In crunch time, he's gonna call great plays, we saw that last year. He likes to heat up the quarterback a little bit. Everyone's philosophy is gonna change game to game, but from a from a structural standpoint, all the people on their defense know where to line up, they know how to cover people and how to make plays, and he obviously probably is the mastermind behind that. He's done a great job in the past few years at Auburn, and we're just looking forward to getting a chance to go against a really good defense again."
Torching this stout Tigers secondary on Saturday afternoon inside Bryant-Denny Stadium at 2:30 p.m (CT), and avenging last year's crushing defeat would be another feather in Jones' cap in regards to becoming Alabama's first quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy.
"Mac is one of the fiercest competitors that I’ve ever been around, and you talk about somebody that loves to win, Mac loves to win," Crimson Tide long snapper Thomas Fletcher said. "And that starts off the field with who he is in the locker room and who he is with the other players. From the older guys to the younger guys and being a mentor for guys who need it. And once you get into the game, that’s a guy that has to be calm, cool and collected. And someone that you can look at and if stuff starts going awry during a game, which happens in SEC football. You look at your quarterback to see how he reacts, and he always reacts with poise, and he’s ready for the next play.
"He’s a fantastic leader, and we’re very, very blessed to have him as a quarterback.”