It’s a pretty amazing phenomenon.
He’s the starting signal-caller on the nation’s top-ranked team. He leads the country in quarterback rating. Unlike over-ballyhooed leaders in the past, like Gino Torretta and Danny Wuerffel and Jason White and Troy Smith, who parlayed hype into Heismans despite not even cracking top-5 status on their own teams, this guy actually is his team’s top dog.
Only no one knows it … yet.
AJ McCarron – remember the name … for once.
If ever a quarterback on a powerhouse deserved recognition, it is the junior for No. 1 Alabama. Not only are his numbers remarkably efficient, but his play is ridiculously smooth. His throws are right on the money – perfect spiral, just in the right spot, where only his receiver can catch it. To that end, McCarron has completed 68.9 percent of his pass attempts, tossed 18 TDs and been picked off … well, he hasn’t been picked off at all.
With one national title already under his belt as the Tide starter, he can claim a 20-1 record at the helm in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and in that one loss he was the best player on the field – even better than teammate Trent Richardson, who went to the Cleveland Browns with the third overall selection in the most recent NFL draft.
Possessing the top defense in the country presents an attention conundrum at ’Bama. It’s a classic case of deserving candidates, or units, stealing some spotlight from each other.
But, make no mistake, McCarron has earned any he gets and much, much more.
Thing is, the Tide gets up so fast on the opposition that their QB’s numbers suffer. A perfect example was this past Saturday’s 38-7 whitewashing of previously unbeaten Mississippi State. McCarron completed 14 of 19 attempts in the first half for 177 yards and two TDs. He then went 2-for-4, accounting for 31 yards, in the third quarter before taking a seat on the bench in the fourth as taskmaster general Nick Saban called off the dogs.
In the meantime, fellow Heisman contender Collin Klein was taking snaps up until the final 2 minutes of a 55-24 runaway against Texas Tech. A hard-nosed, throwback type with dual-threat skills that seem to rely as much on determination as they do on athletic ability, Klein has surged to the forefront of the race, coinciding with his Kansas State squad’s rise to No. 2 in the BCS standings.
How ironic that he is receiving recognition, and the guy playing the same position, and statistically playing it better, for the No. 1 team, really, is not.
At this point, those two and their teams appear to be on a collision course – first for Heisman honors, and then for national-title honors.
If anything, there are more legit contenders alive for the latter … as unbeatens Oregon and Notre Dame, and SEC once-beatens LSU, Georgia and Florida remain very much in play.
The Heisman, though, it’s pretty much all about McCarron and Klein now. Previous front-runner Geno Smith of West Virginia has faded dramatically, and Marqise Lee’s outstanding individual efforts for Southern Cal are going to be wiped away by a disappointing 2012 for the Trojans. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller probably isn’t out of the race just yet, but the Buckeyes being on probation will not help his case.
Nope, this year, at this point, it’s down to a couple of QBs … on the nation’s top two teams. Well, unless, the hype machine at Notre Dame kicks into high gear and gets Manti Te’o in the mix.
The odds would be against him, though, since a linebacker has never won the Heisman – not even one with the Irish pedigree or PR push.