Only 76 players in the history of college football have earned the designation of Heisman Trophy winners. First awarded in 1935, the Heisman Trophy is considered the sport’s pinnacle of individual achievement.
SaturdayBlitz.com is tracking the race to the 78th Heisman Trophy throughout the 2013 college football season via the Heisman Top 25. Every week throughout the season, we are tracking the progress of the contenders, both their on-field impact and media presence.
That Alabama QB AJ McCarron might never get enough credit has nothing to do with his ability or production. Since coming to Alabama, coach Nick Saban’s strategy of choice has never been to put his quarterback in the shotgun and spread the field. He has also not chosen to have his signal-caller drop back and throw 35-40 times per game. Instead, Saban has relied on an uber-competent version of a game-manager – a quarterback who can win games for the Crimson Tide but rarely gets called upon to do so. His preferred method of winning centers around a dominant defense and a punishing run game that wears down opponents. There is little finesse in what Saban directs his team to do, leaving little room for Texas Tech-type quarterback numbers.
Odds are McCarron will never put up prototypical Heisman Trophy-type numbers. That isn’t because of his skill. As a junior, McCarron completed more than 67 percent of his passes for 2,933 yards while throwing 30 TDs and just 3 INTs. He also posted a quarterback rating of 175.3 in the process of leading the Crimson Tide to its second consecutive national championship.
McCarron’s true value comes in his consistency. He completed at least 60 percent of his passes in 12 of 14 games and threw for 160 yards or more in every game except for the Western Carolina game (in which he attempted six passes). McCarron also threw a TD pass in 13 of 14 games. The Mobile native also posted QB ratings of at least 115.4 in every outing and had ratings of 140 or higher in 11 of 14.
There have been groundswells for the McCarron Heisman candidacy in each of the past two seasons. Both times his hopes fizzled because players in offenses revolved more around them posted better numbers. As has been discussed, it’s unrealistic to expect anything different in 2013. The better argument for McCarron will likely be the “Best Quarterback Ever” conversation. It won’t be a popular discussion, but it will be one held in the sports talk universe with the crux of the argument being, “What if he wins a third BCS national championship? If quarterbacks are judge by wins and losses, how can he not be the best ever?”
How AJ McCarron Wins The Heisman
The best card McCarron has to win the Heisman Trophy is being the most valuable player on the nation’s best team. That can be difficult with a top-notch teammate in the backfield (RB T.J. Yeldon) and a dynamic pass-catcher (WR Amari Cooper). McCarron’s best hope is to go about the way he has always done things by playing consistently excellent, mistake-free football and have a talented stable of backs split the workload. Fortunately for the senior quarterback, that has typically been the way the Crimson Tide has operated since RB Mark Ingram won the Heisman in 2009.
With all the talk of McCarron’s non-Heisman numbers, it should go without saying that he needs to lead his team to another strong season. “Strong” for Alabama means no worse than an 11-1 regular season, an SEC championship and, likely, a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.
Lastly, McCarron needs a little external help. If his numbers aren’t going to elevate to a level of those in the Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III stratosphere, then he needs other national contenders’ numbers to regress to the middle. He also needs players with spectacular statistics to lose enough games that they aren’t championship candidates.
• 211-314, 2,933 yards, 30 TDs, 3 INTs in 2012
• 175.3 quarterback rating in 2012
• 460-690, 5,956 yards, 49 TDs, 8 INTs in career
• 25-2 career record as starting QB with 2 BCS national championships
Compared To Past Heisman Winners
Matt Leinart, USC, 2004: Leinart’s 2004 season might be the best blueprint for McCarron. Why? Leinart had remarkable talent surrounding him at USC. He also had all the weapons and tools a quarterback could want. Yet with all the advantages of an elite team, Leinart topped the 300-yard mark just once during the regular season. His yardage, TDs and INTs (3,322, 33, 6) were also very comparable to those of McCarron’s (2,933, 30, 3). The big difference-maker for Leinart was the fact that his biggest game of the season came in a dominating victory over Notre Dame. Leinart went 24 for 34 for 400 yards and 5 TDs in that contest, thrusting his Heisman candidacy into the fast lane.
Chris Weinke, Florida State, 2000: Similar to the 2013 Alabama team, the Florida State squad in 2000 had worlds of talent. That team ran into a buzzsaw in the end, though, falling to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl (before the BCS National Championship Game was a separate bowl). Weinke posted better yardage stats than McCarron is likely to, throwing for 4,167 yards. McCarron’s touchdowns-to-interceptions numbers, however, were arguably more impressive in 2012 when he threw 30 TDs against 3 INTs. Weinke threw 33 TDs and 13 INTs during his Heisman campaign.