How does one define “The Nation’s Outstanding Football Player”? According to the official Heisman website www.heisman.com, “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” As the single most recognizable award in college football, we should all hope that Heisman voters take this definition to heart and apply this definition provided by the Heisman trust when voting for the players they deem worthy of the award.
Breaking the definition down, the term college football player allows any player competing in college football at any level to be voted for. The term Outstanding requires that the player perform at a level well above the norm, although no definition is given to place any requirements to determine what qualifies as outstanding. The phrase ‘exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity’ thus carries the majority of impact on how the award is defined.
A number of players are being touted for the Heisman Award, and these players all qualify to be considered based on the definition provided by the Heisman Trust. To be considered for this award is an award in itself. Having your coach and family travel with you to New York for the Heisman awards is recognition of your preparation and performance that literally thousands of players across the country pursue with very similar effort through out their careers. The performance of your team figures into your presence in New York and being able to perform at the highest level when the lights are the brightest makes a major difference. Would Johnny Manziel have won the Trophy last year if he had played an average game last year in Tuscaloosa ?
Last night in Tuscaloosa in Alabama’s SEC West showdown with LSU, A.J. McCarron added to his resume as a Heisman candidate. By his own admission he is more concerned about team awards and accomplishments than the life-changing Trophy award that he could earn this December, but the Crimson Tide’s decisive win over LSU can only enhance his credentials. Let’s look at his record.
• 2012 AP third team All-American
• 2012 Second team All-SEC
• 2012 Finalist for Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award
• 33-2 (.943) as a starter at Alabama
• Leads nation (173.08) in passing efficiency
• Alabama record 26 passing touchdowns in 2012
• Went 291 pass attempts (2011-12) without throwing an interception (second-longest streak in SEC history)
2009 (REDSHIRT) : He redshirted during his first season at Alabama.
2010 (FRESHMAN): McCarron played in all 13 games, eight of which were at the quarterback position … was the primary holder on field goals and extra point attempts … threw for 389 yards on 30-for-48 passing with three touchdowns … posted a 151.20 quarterback rating.
2011 (SOPHOMORE): McCarron started all 13 of the Crimson Tide’s games in 2011 at quarterback … showed poise, confidence and excellent decision-making while leading the Alabama offense … posted a 12-1 record and won the national championship in his first year as the starting quarterback … completed 66.8 percent of his passes, which was the second-highest percentage in school history … threw for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns … had just five interceptions … LSU (BCS National Championship Game): Earned Offensive MVP honors after throwing for 234 yards on 23-of-34 passing … did not throw an interception while completing passes to seven different receivers.
2012 (JUNIOR): Veteran signalcaller who led the nation with 173.08 passer efficiency rating … one of five finalists for Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award … semifinalist for Davey O’Brien and Maxwell awards … AP third team All-American … consensus second team All-SEC … has a school-record 26 touchdown passes in 2012 … went 291 pass attempts between interceptions (2011-12), second-longest streak in SEC history … 24-2 as the Alabama starter (tied for fifth-most wins in school history and second in win percentage at .923) … boasts career average of one interception every 82.8 pass attempts and one pick every 95.3 passes in 2012 (both on pace to be SEC records) … has completed 66.8 percent of his passes (191-of-286) during junior season for 2,669 yards (42 completions of 20-plus) … LSU: Battled through back contusion to lead game-winning, 5-play, 72-yard drive in only 43 seconds for 21-17 come-from-behind victory … 4-of-5 on final drive and found T.J. Yeldon for 28-yard screen play and the winning score … went 8-of-9 for 109 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing) in the waning seconds of each half … capped two-minute drill at end of the first half with nine-yard touchdown run … extended his consecutive passes without an interception to 289. Georgia: Found Cooper for 45-yard touchdown with 3:15 remaining, on what proved to be the winning play in 32-28 victory over the Bulldogs … went 13-of-21 for 162 yards, with one interception … also rushed for 16 yards, including a 22-yard run shortly before halftime (leading to a field goal). Notre Dame: Threw for 264 yards on 20-of-28 passing with four touchdowns as he helped the Crimson Tide to its second straight national championship.
2013 (SENIOR) Nine games into the season, A.J. has thrown for 2041 yards with 19 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. He has 159 completions out of 229 attempts, a percentage of 69.4. His QB Rating is a lofty 169.1, but most importantly, his team is undefeated and ranked # 1 in the country.
(Thanks to rolltide.com, the University of Alabama Athletic website for information on A.J. McCarron)
Nick Saban’s nomination for McCarron reads as follows: “All he does is win and does what his team needs for him to do. I think the guy is the best quarterback in the country. People want to look at statistics all the time and base the quarterback on that.” Saban would have to qualify as an expert on such things, being the first name mentioned when media members discuss the top football coach in the country. Saban is also known as the best recognizer of talent in the country, so for him to tell us that McCarron is the best QB in the country is high praise indeed.
To look at Alabama’s team achievements during McCarron’s tenure as the starting quarterback is revealing as well.
2011 12-1 2nd place SEC West, BCS National Champions (21-0 over LSU, where A.J. was the Offensive MVP)
2012 13-1 1st place SEC West, SEC Champions (32-38 over Georgia with McCarron throwing the game-winning TD to Amari Cooper with 3:15 left in the game), BCS National Champions (42-14 over Notre Dame, where he was 20 for 28 with 4 touchdowns)
2013 9-0 Currently in 1st place in the SEC West with 3 games left to play.
Detractors may point to other player’s gaudy statistics, but the most impressive statistic that McCarron has is a negative one. His team has lost games twice when he was the starter at Quarterback. This year his team beat defending Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel’s Texas A&M Aggies in a head-to-head battle, and for good measure came from 14 points behind to score 35 unanswered points and throwing for 344 yards and 4 TDs, including the game-winner. As usual, A.J. did not commit any turnovers and controlled the game when his offense was on the field.
By definition, the Heisman is not a career award, but McCarron’s performance in 2011 and 2012 provide us insight into his tendencies and his consistency and improvement to become the player he is today. The Heisman award definition of ‘the pursuit of excellence with integrity’ fits A.J. McCarron to an ‘A’. When asked about something that happens to the team that could be considered negative, A.J. almost ignores the questions and indicates that ‘we were working together on the sideline on how we could improve during the game’. When questioned about Johnny Manziel’s whereabouts, wake-up time and subsequent absence at the Manning Passing Academy over the summer in Louisiana, McCarron did not have much to say, preferring to let the parties actually involved in the situation handle the questions directly and without interference from him. That sounds a lot like integrity. A.J. also has friendly relationships with young people battling cancer across the state of Alabama and reaches out through social media to call attention to people’s struggles with cancer and other illnesses.
Oustanding college football player? Without question, A.J. McCarron is the team leader on the offensive side of the ball for the best team in the country. He makes plays to win games and avoids making mistakes that lose games. Pursuit of Excellence with Integrity? Going from an incoming freshman who was 6’4” and weighed 189 pounds who couldn’t squat 225 pounds in his first team workout, A.J. now squats almost 600 pounds and weighs 210 pounds. McCarron is one of the hardest workers in the Bama weight room and according to his coaches “gets us in the right play most of the time”. To nearly triple your squat performance and develop an understanding of your team’s offense requires a tremendous amount of discipline and commitment by a young adult who has other interests right around the corner.
Some football fans and experts may prefer guys who throw for 400 yards a game and snake through the defensive backfield of their opponents. If you ask Nick Saban who he would vote for Heisman this season, you will almost certainly hear A.J. McCarron’s name. If you had the gumption to ask why, Saban’s answer would be short and to the point. “He’s a winner.” He should be the Heisman Trophy winner for 2013 if the voters follow the definition of the award as it is listed by the organization that sponsors the award.