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The Saban Top 100: No. 7: AJ McCarron

The Saban Top 100: No. 7: AJ McCarron

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The Saban Top 100: No. 7 AJ McCarron

BamaCentral is ranking the top 100 players of the Nick Saban era at Alabama over the course of the 2020 football season

7] AJ McCarron, QB

  • Won 2013 Maxwell Award
  • 2013 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award
  • 2013 All-American
  • Fifth-round selection in 2014 NFL Draft
  • Finished runner-up in voting for the 2013 Heisman Trophy
  • Led the Crimson Tide to back-to-back BCS national championships in 2011 and 2012. Also was on 2009 team that won title
  • Completed 686-of-1,026 passes (66.9 percent) for 9,019 yards, 77 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 53 career games and led Alabama to a 36-4 record as a three-year starter
  • Was the NCAA passing champion by posting a 175.3 rating
  • Team captain

When he talked about it one couldn’t help but think there was some embellishment, if not wishful thinking involved, especially considering the players he was up against at the time.

Yet during the 2013 season, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron insisted otherwise. Even though the 2009 Crimson Tide defense had three All-Americans with Javier Arenas, Terrence Cody and Rolando McClain, along with future first-round draft picks Mark Barron, Marcel Dareus, Kareem Jackson, Dont’a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, the quarterback claimed that he more than gave them everything they could handle during practices.

“Ask Coach Saban. We were killing the ’09 defense on scout team,” McCarron said.

Um, coach? Really?

“I do remember it that way,” Nick Saban confirmed, as did Kevin Norwood, who was one of his scout-team receivers: “We were just throwing all over them. We were giving them good looks.”

McCarron only turned out to become the most successful quarterback in Crimson Tide history, while challenging a few Southeastern Conference and National Collegiate Athletic Association records as well.

He already had most career touchdown passes of anyone to play for Alabama before his senior season began, and during his final stretch run was closing in on John Parker Wilson’s marks for passing yards (7,924 from 2005-08), total offense (8,099), and completions (665), in addition to Greg McElroy’s record for completion percentage (66.3, 2007-10), and Jay Barker’s 35 wins as a starting quarterback (1991-94).

To help put his numbers into perspective, consider that during his collegiate career in the 1960s, Joe Namath completed 203 of 374 passes (54.3 percent), for 2,713 yards, 24 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and had a passer rating of 125.7. Even in the 1990s, Barker was 402 of 706 (56.9 percent), for 5,689 yards with 26 touchdowns, 24 interceptions, and a 130.0 passer rating.

“I think it shows how great my teammates are and how much they mean to me and how much they’ve helped me over the years,” McCarron said about his records chase. “I think it will be cool when I’m retired and sitting at home with the grandkids and my kids and be able to tell them stories, but for right now I’m worried about us as a team and what we need to do to three-peat and bring another championship back here.”

That’s what McCarron’s final season was really all about, and history.

With three national championships, two as a starter, to go with two SEC titles and a pair of division crowns, McCarron already had so many rings that he needed to involved his toes in order to wear them all simultaneously.

However, no quarterback has ever won three straight titles as a starter.

Tebow won two with Florida, but only one as a starter. Tommie Frazier enjoyed consecutive perfect seasons with Nebraska in 1994-95, yet was long gone when the Cornhuskers landed the split national title in 1997.

Really the only starting quarterback whom McCarron was still pursuing in terms of championships since the poll era began in 1936 was Johnny Lujack. Although he played both ways, Lujack led Frank Leahy’s rise to legendary status, guiding Notre Dame to the 1943 and 1946 national championships, along with the controversial 1947 title.

Lujack didn’t throw very often out of the T-formation, finishing his career having completed 144 of 280 passes (51.4 percentage), for 2,080 yards and 19 touchdowns, but won the 1947 Heisman Trophy and was named the Associated Press male athlete of the year.

Not a lot of people could handle the pressure of trying to match or beat that, but McCarron gave it a solid go.

After nearly losing his redshirt in 2009 when McElroy sustained a late-season rib injury, McCarron remained the backup for another season. In 2011, he was the rookie starter, the guy whose primary job was to make sure the offense didn’t do anything to put the team in jeopardy. He responded by being the offensive MVP of the BCS Championships Game.

A year later, no one quite knew what to expect as the Crimson Tide had a new offensive coordinator, essentially no proven wide receivers and no backup quarterback with experience. Nevertheless, McCarron rewrote the Alabama record book with 2,933 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, with just three interceptions. His passer efficiency rating of 175.3 not only topped the SEC, but the nation, and he ked a fantastic late comeback at probably the toughest venue in college football, LSU.

Yet even after hoisting another crystal football some critics still tried to label him as just being a game manager, downplaying his role in the offense.

“To me, you can't be a good quarterback unless you're a good game manager, because you've got the ball in your hands every time and you're making some kind of choice and decision of what to do with it, whether you hand it off, what play you hand it off on, where you throw it in the passing game,” Saban said. “You've got to process a lot of information quickly and make quick decisions. I don't think it's fair to AJ that because I said he's a really good game manager for us that it's like that means he doesn't do anything. He does everything.”

Nevertheless, McCarron continually looked to improve. He hit the weight room during his final collegiate offseason and altered his technique to get his lower body more into his throws, providing a little more zip on the ball.

Getting an even firmer grasp on the offense was also a priority, with coaches giving him more flexibility to read the defense and make adjustments before each snap – something that has to be really earned with Saban.

But it was in trying to be a team leader that McCarron developed the most. Instead of just being one of the guys and seldom speaking up in meetings, it was clearly his offense.

“He's really taken command,” Saban said. “He takes the responsibility to do it and he really stepped up. He's improved.”

Consequently, McCarron won his early-season rematch with Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and didn’t have turnover in the 49-42 victory. Against Georgia State he connected on his first 12 attempts, and by making 15 of 16 passes set a Crimson Tide record for best completion percentage in a single game. The following week Kentucky never stopped the Alabama offense, which after a dropped pass on third down and two lost fumbles in Wildcats territory scored on its last seven possessions. He finished with a career-high 359 passing yards.

It was more of the same against Arkansas as Alabama was on an offensive roll that fans had never seen before.

“It’s been awesome,” he said.

Regardless, McCarron said he wants to be remembered as “Just as a guy who did the right thing,” which doesn’t seem solely possible for any Alabama quarterback. Yet it’s been an incredible ride, going all the way back to those 2009 practices when the freshman leading the scout team couldn’t help but make his Crimson Tide teammate mad on a regular basis.

“Definitely,” McCarron said. “It was fun, though, out there competing with them.”

• 

The Saban Top 100 will be revealed over the course of the 2020 football season, with the top players unveiled one a day as part of BamaCentral's 25 Days of Christmas celebration.

The series thus far:

Read More

Introduction

No. 8: AJ McCarron 

No. 9: C.J. Mosley

No. 10: Amari Cooper

No. 11: Rolando McClain

No. 12: Trent Richardson

No. 13: Andre Smith

No. 14: Quinnen Williams

No. 15: Dont'a Hightower

No. 16: Jerry Jeudy

No. 17: Jalen Hurts

No. 18: Reuben Foster

No. 19: Chance Warmack

No. 20: Mark Barron

No. 21: Jonah Williams

No. 22: Da'Ron Payne

No. 23: Ryan Kelly

No. 24: Landon Collins

No. 25: Cam Robinson

26-30: Terrence Cody, Calvin Ridley, Javier Arenas, Reggie Ragland, Jedrick Wills Jr.

31-35: Dee Milliner, D.J. Fluker, Marlon Humphrey, Rashad Evans, A'Shawn Robinson

36-40: Rashaan Evans, Dre Kirkpatrick, Marcell Dareus, Eddie Jackson, O.J. Howard

41-45: Courtney Upshaw, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Henry Ruggs III, Jarran Reed, Xavier McKinney

46-50: Dalvin Tomlinson, Antoine Caldwell, Kareem Jackson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Trevon Diggs

51-55: Mike Johnson, T.J. Yeldon, Ronnie Harrison, Damien Harris, JK Scott

56-60: Ross Pierschbacher, Eddie Lacy, Bradley Bozeman, Ryan Anderson, Glen Coffee

61-65: Greg McElroy, Josh Jacobs, Anfernee Jennings, James Carpenter, Kenyan Drake

66-70: Terrell Lewis, Blake Sims, Christian Miller, Irv Smith Jr., Tim Williams

71-75: Mack Wilson, ArDarius Stewart, Deionte Thompson, Raekwon Davis, Jalston Fowler

76-80: Josh Chapman, Cyrus Jones, Kevin Norwood, Isaiah Buggs, Jake Coker

81-85: Bo Scarbrough, Anthony Averett, Leigh Tiffin, Ed Stinson, DeQuan Menzie

86-90: Jesse Williams, Shaun Dion Hamilton, William Vlachos, Da'Shawn Hand, Arie Kouandjio

91-95: Nico Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, DJ Hall, Vinnie Sunseri, Quinton Dial

96-100: Trey DePriest, Damion Square, Christion Jones, John Parker Wilson, Simeon Castille 

7] AJ McCarron, QB

  • Won 2013 Maxwell Award
  • 2013 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award
  • 2013 All-American
  • Fifth-round selection in 2014 NFL Draft
  • Finished runner-up in voting for the 2013 Heisman Trophy
  • Led the Crimson Tide to back-to-back BCS national championships in 2011 and 2012. Also was on 2009 team that won title
  • Completed 686-of-1,026 passes (66.9 percent) for 9,019 yards, 77 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 53 career games and led Alabama to a 36-4 record as a three-year starter
  • Was the NCAA passing champion by posting a 175.3 rating
  • Team captain
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