One of the biggest questions heading into the 2011 season was who would be our quarterback: redshirt sophomore AJ McCarron or redshirt freshman Phillip Sims? After the season opener, most folks knew McCarron was the one, but all doubts were pretty much removed following his nice performance against Penn State in Happy Valley.
Twelve games later, McCarron tosses the team on his back and earns the Offensive MVP award in the national championship game against LSU. Not bad for a first year starter.
But with his outstanding play in the BCS title game comes lofty expectations. And not just expectations for another year, but for two more years. On sports talk radio in Birmingham, I recently heard one pundit refer to McCarron as one of the top five quarterbacks in the country heading into the 2012 season.
Wow. That’s a long way to travel in only 14 games as a starter.
At Alabama, it’s not unusual for a sophomore quarterback to lead a national championship team. I know it was a couple of championships ago, but Bama won the 1992 title with sophomore Jay Barker at the controls. And at Alabama, it’s those championships and wins that truly define our legends. Barker became a Heisman finalist in 1994, but it’s his gaudy 35-3 record as a starter that we remember, not any statistics he compiled. But with McCarron, we have a chance to see something pretty spectacular unfold. We have a chance to see a championship quarterback that also absolutely owns the quarterback section of the Alabama record book. Before last season, I made these observations concerning whoever won the quarterbacking battle:
On a side note, if either McCarron or Sims settles into the role as starter early on, they have the possibility of starting for a long, long time. If they put up typical Saban QB numbers over that period, they would likely smash all of the Bama passing records and would have a chance to become Alabama’s first ever 10,000 yard passer.
I didn’t have to go real far out on a limb to make that prediction for a possible three or four year starter, and though McCarron probably won’t hit 10,000 passing yards, he does have an outstanding shot to own the record book.
That sounds pretty strong doesn’t it? But that’s the top end of the expectations for McCarron and if he can do it, he’ll be know as “The Best Ever Quarterback at Alabama.”
For the 2011 season, he wound up completing 66.8% of his 328 passes for 2,634 yards and 16touchdowns, while tossing only five interceptions. When you add in his mop-up duty from 2010, here’s a glimpse of where McCarron stands now:
- 3,023 career passing yards
- 19 career passing touchdowns
- 66.2% career completion percentage
- 1.32% career interceptions-to-completions ratio
- .929 career winning percentage (2nd behind Barker’s .934)
And don’t forget one national title.
If McCarron plays for two more years without injury, he will most likely obliterate the career marks for passing yards and touchdowns. That would mean overtaking John Parker Wilson in both categories (7,924 yards and 47 touchdown passes) and would likely mean cracking the barriers of 50 touchdown passes and 9,000 yards passing. Those aren’t exactly Houston Cougar numbers, but they are impressive for a program like Alabama’s.
Achieve those numbers with at least one national championship under your belt and you are the best quarterback ever at Alabama. Better than Joe Namath, better than Ken Stabler and better than Barker.
So how likely is this? I actually think he has a pretty fair shot, barring injury.
Of course, this year he’ll be dealing with greater expectations and those type of expectations create more pressure. Last year, the Tide rode McCarron a good bit more than the 1992 team rode Barker, but both quarterbacks relied in large part on incredible defenses and stout running games. And really, we should expect the same thing this year. Though the expectations are higher, it’s not as if the Tide offense is totally rebuilding and McCarron is the only returning starter. Four starters return on the offensive line (and the new left tackle isn’t too shabby). The backfield is loaded. There is talent at receiver. We have several good tight ends.
Given all that talent, it’s reasonable to expect McCarron to be more explosive, but he won’t be asked to be more reckless. In other words, we aren’t going to forget how to run the ball and the defense should again be stout, so the quarterback doesn’t need to screw up a good thing with turnovers.