- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- All right, already. Granted, AJ McCarron's candidacy for the Heisman Trophy is interesting fodder for debate, but it's reached a point where we're starting to lose sight of the forest for the trees. To look at him in terms of his Heisman worthiness is to not understand his worth at all.
McCarron isn't the right man for the award, and that's to take nothing away from what he's done at Alabama. Maybe a decade ago he was, but not today. The time where Chris Weinke and Eric Crouch could hoist the bronze trophy feels like forever ago. Johnny Manziel he is not. He's certainly no Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton. He doesn't put up video game numbers like they did and he doesn't defy the definition of what a quarterback should be like the en vogue runners of today's game.
He stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 214 pounds. His arm strength is good, but not great. If we were to measure his 40-yard dash time, it would likely leave something to be desired. Try as we must, McCarron is merely human in terms of his athleticism, and that's his chief disqualification for the award. When he sees the sack coming, he'll often just fall and live to see another play. He prides himself on taking what the defense gives him, rather than trying to force the issue and make a play that takes your breath away. His highlight reel would be the most boring the award show has seen in years.
There's a difference between being critically acclaimed and being popular, and McCarron rests somewhere in the middle ground. He's a coach’s dream, a guy who does everything right and executes the game plan perfectly. But he's the casual fan's nightmare. He doesn't wow you with his ability. He doesn't even have a fancy nickname like Johnny Football or Famous Jameis. He's just AJ, the guy many still associate with being a "game manager." He'll play OK for three quarters and rise from the dead in the nick of time to win the game. It's infuriating.
If you entered Saturday night's game against LSU looking for McCarron to have the kind of performance that would catapult him into the upper echelon of the Heisman discussion, you left feeling disappointed. He was nearly flawless, completing 14 of 20 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns, but put up against the jaw dropping numbers of today's high-flying offenses, he was pedestrian. Baylor's Bryce Petty moved up in the Heisman race only after accounting for five touchdowns in a blowout win over Oklahoma.
Petty, meanwhile, has thrown for 616 more yards and two more touchdowns than McCarron this season. And that's to say nothing of Manziel and Winston's numbers. McCarron is ninth nationally in QBR and ninth in adjusted QBR. There isn't a stat you can find where he's the best or even the second best, not even in passing efficiency where he led the country a season ago.
No, the best thing about McCarron is that he's not those guys. He doesn't demand your attention with his numbers or his style of play. He's someone who competes like crazy, has won a ton of games and doesn't care about awards. He became the all-time leader in passing yards at Alabama on Saturday and hardly anyone noticed. He's asked incessantly whether he's frustrated with not being in the heat of the Heisman discussion, and his answer is the same every time.
"I don't need the credit," he said Monday. "I go home and don't lose an ounce of sleep because I don't get mentioned in the Heisman.
"People ask me all the time, 'Am I mad?' I'm not mad at all. I go home at night and put my head on the pillow fall asleep pretty fast, and pretty happy at that."
Truth be told, Alabama coach Nick Saban would like to see his quarterback considered for the trophy. But his definition of who should win the award is admittedly different from the prevailing opinion.
"What AJ's done the best is implement the offense that helps us play winning football," Saban told ESPN's Ivan Maisel on his podcast before the LSU game. "If that's the ultimate goal of why you go out there, I think people should really recognize the fact that he's probably done that, at least to this point, as well as anybody that's played over the last three years or maybe as well as anybody has played over a three-year stretch for a long time."
Alabama doesn't run up the score late in games so McCarron's numbers suffer. Alabama doesn't run a quarterback friendly offense, either, so his numbers take a hit there too.
"If we were more wide open, would he have more effective stats? I don't think there's any question about it," Saban said.
But "ifs" are not a factor in the Heisman Trophy discussion. McCarron is what he is and, frankly, he doesn't fit the current mold for what the award's winner should be. He's normal athletically. He's imperfect at times. And his best attribute is one shared by his teammates: wins.
"Does every player want the ball, does every receiver want to catch passes, does every runner want to gain yards? Absolutely," Saban said. "That's all great to have those kind of individual goals and I'm sure AJ has a lot of individual goals as well. To put that ahead of team success is something that would be detrimental to us being effective. When you have leaders on your team like … AJ McCarron who definitely put the team first, definitely put winning first, definitely willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen, I think that's the only way you can have a successful team."
Giving McCarron the Heisman Trophy might actually diminish his legacy at this point. It would have to be in the first paragraph of his biography, and that's somewhat disappointing. The absence of the award makes him unique. It gives us something to talk about.
So why not appreciate him for what he is? Besides, he doesn’t seem to want the award, so why force it on him?
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- All right, already. Granted, AJ McCarron's candidacy for the Heisman Trophy is interesting fodder for debate, but it's reached a point where we're starting to lose sight of the forest for the trees.