By John Zenor
AJ McCarron has risen to the occasion on big stages with Southeastern Conference and national titles on the line.
Now, top-ranked Alabama’s quarterback steps onto one with something more personal potentially at stake, too: His Heisman Trophy chances.
McCarron can bolster his case if he leads the Crimson Tide past rival No. 4 Auburn on Saturday and looks good doing it.
The player whose gaudiest numbers are the wins and championships he has collected remains adamant that he’s all about winning games, not statues. But a win would secure him an even grander showcase in the SEC championship game for another BCS title game trip.
McCarron insists the Heisman isn’t on his mind.
“I ain’t worried about that,” he said. “If it comes, it comes. If not, I just want us to win.”
Wide receiver Kevin Norwood said he’s never heard his friend and quarterback talk about the Heisman. Norwood thinks McCarron is worthy, even if his statistics aren’t jump-off-the-page terrific in the Tide’s balanced offense.
“I think he deserves it,” Norwood said. “For a quarterback to come in the Alabama system under Nick Saban and go out and do the things he has done, helping this team win two national championships and on the way to probably winning another one ... He has less interceptions than anybody. For him to not get the recognition he needs, it’s ridiculous. But we can’t manage that. That’s up to the media and politics.”
McCarron’s not about to politic for the individual award. He’s waged a pretty good campaign on the field during his career by virtue of poise and consistency.
He has led the Tide (11-0, 7-0 SEC) to 36 wins in 38 starts, plus two straight national titles. He can match Southern California’s Matt Leinart for the third-highest winning percentage by a major college starting quarterback if Alabama beats the Tigers (10-1, 6-1) at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The Tigers don’t want him having a so-called Heisman moment on their field. Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, though, said it’s not about trying to deny McCarron college football’s most coveted individual award.
“We’re not trying to take that from him,” said Ford, one of the SEC’s top pass rushers. “We want to stop him. I’m not thinking about him not winning the Heisman. He’s not going to come in here and just have his way.”
While other players have had struggles on or off the field, McCarron has been terrific against No. 19 Texas A&M and solid versus No. 15 LSU and every other opponent. His two-interception game against Mississippi State seems like an aberration.
McCarron, who owns Alabama career marks for passing yards (8,355) and touchdowns (72), has passed for 2,399 yards with 23 touchdowns against five interceptions.
He’s second in NCAA history for career interception ratio with one for every 74.4 attempt, behind only Fresno State’s Billy Volek (one pick per 77.8 passes).
All that led Sports Illustrated to pose this question on a recent cover: “Is it time to think about AJ McCarron as one of the best ever?”
“Well, I think it’s an honor,” McCarron said. “I don’t ever think about that. I’m focused on my team right now and what we need to do to be successful week in and week out. Whatever they want to say after I’m done playing, that’s fine with me.”
His chances of being declared “best this year” by Heisman voters partially hinge on what happens this Saturday, and possibly the next two Saturdays. Auburn’s defense ranks 13th in the SEC against the pass and gave up 415 yards two weeks ago to Georgia’s Aaron Murray, but has been stingy once opponents cross the 20-yard line.
The Tigers have also racked up 24 sacks, led by Ford’s eight in nine games.
McCarron said Auburn’s front four is athletic, and the defense will no doubt be highly motivated for this game.
“They’re going to be amped up, ready to play,” he said. “In their stadium, it’s going to be loud. It’s going to be a good challenge for us. It’s going to be fun.
“I love playing in games like this.”