By Kevin McGuire
The end of October is here, which means the Heisman Trophy race is starting to head down the final stretch with about a month to go before being awarded to the top college football player in the country this season. At this point, we appear to have some clear front-runners in the discussion, but there are still some big games on the way to help catapult a few others into the conversation. One candidate that will have a chance to do just that is one who has little to prove at this point.
QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
If there is one quarterback in the country you might want leading your offense down field with the game on the line, it may be Alabama’s AJ McCarron. The quarterback has led the Crimson Tide to two straight BCS national championships and often gets overlooked when discussing Alabama because the defense has been so dominant and McCarron has always had a solid running game surrounding him. But McCarron has more than done his part in leading Alabama the past couple of seasons and he continues to be a leader as Alabama looks to capture a third straight BCS title.
McCarron has thrown 16 touchdowns and passed for 1,862 yards with just three interceptions through eight games this season. Those numbers will end up putting him behind in the Heisman conversation because they do not particularly stand out compared to other potential candidates for the Heisman Trophy, such as Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston or Johnny Manziel. It is important to keep in mind that McCarron has not seen the end of a football game on the field too often this season because Alabama has been so dominant. A closer look at McCarron’s numbers though show just how valuable he really is to Alabama’s offense.
McCarron locks in once Alabama enters the red zone. This season, McCarron is 16 of 24 with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. McCarron has six additional touchdowns from the opponent’s 21- to 39-yard line as well with just one turnover. On third down situations, McCarron’s completion percentage increases by distance, from 72.2 percent on 3rd and 4-6 to 78.6 percent on 3rd and 7-9 and 80 percent on 3rd and 10+. McCarron has gone four straight games without throwing an interception, with Mississippi being the last team to come up with a pass from McCarron.
McCarron will not put up the big numbers that others do, but his command of the offense and leadership on the field should also be considered when discussing potential Heisman candidates. Everything McCarron has been through the past couple of years has developed him as a natural leader this season and it shows. While the Heisman Trophy is certainly not a career achievement award, McCarron has earned consideration for this year’s award. Is he the best player in college football? No, probably not, but there is no doubt that he is one of the most valuable players out there.
Heisman Match-Up of the Week
Florida State vs. Miami: The Jameis Winston show continues this weekend. In what is a pretty down week on the schedule, Florida State’s freshman quarterback has one more chance to really shine in the national spotlight. This weekend, Winston goes up against a Miami defense that ranks third in the ACC against the pass and has 12 interceptions this year. Miami running back Duke Johnson will also get a chance to show what he can do on the ground after taking control against Wake Forest last week in leading Miami to a come-from-behind win to remain undefeated. Johnson will try to find room to run against the ACC’s third best running defense.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.