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October 21, 2012

HURT: McCarron has Heisman Trophy qualities

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | AJ McCarron's mind is probably a million miles from New York at the moment. The toughest tests still remain for his University of Alabama football team. But could his name - mentioned most in connection with the word "meniscus" earlier this week - be mentioned with the Heisman Trophy, too?

The early frontrunner, West Virginia's Geno Smith, has seen his candidacy go up in flames faster than a Morgantown couch. Plenty of players could step into his place based on statistics. Offensive statistics are up everywhere - even the SEC, although more so elsewhere. McCarron doesn't have a catchy nickname like AJ Football or total yardage numbers that look like the national debt. But he does win, and has to the tune of 19-1 in his career to date. It has been worth a Heisman for other quarterbacks, although invoking the name Gino Torretta probably won't do much for most Alabama fans.

What might hinder McCarron more than anything, though, is his dearth of drama. He doesn't get the Tom Hanks or Daniel Day-Lewis roles playing for Alabama, the star turns with great Hollywood endings, the Oscar-worthy stuff. Alabama games these days are about as dramatic as "Paul Blart, Mall Cop." Or a better comparison might be "The Avengers," a big box-office production in which the bad guys inevitably get blown up and beat up by the end. McCarron might be like the guy who plays Captain America, but the fact that I cannot recall the name of the guy who plays Captain America off the top of my head makes the point.

In the win over Tennessee, McCarron had better statistics - over 300 yards passing and four touchdowns. Yes, he got help from freshman Amari Cooper's sure hands, and he did not get a lot of resistance from Tennessee's defense. The junior quarterback got a lot of off-the-field attention for the reputedly mysterious status of his knee, even though Alabama explained pretty specifically what was going on since last Saturday. He is the defending BCS Championship Game MVP, a performance that didn't count in last year's voting and technically isn't a factor in this one, a curious quirk of Heisman voting being that a player's performance on the grandest stage does not count. So does any of it translate into Heisman buzz across the country, where there are not a lot of other candidates buzzing?

The next three weeks will tell the story. Mississippi State, LSU and Texas A&M all look better than anyone Alabama has played to date, although an Aggies-Michigan game would be pretty interesting. Surely, at some point, McCarron will be called on to pull Alabama out of the fire. Well, not surely, but maybe. If he does dazzle in these games, then he will at least enter the conversation.

It might not be entirely fair that no other Alabama player will get consideration. Barrett Jones might be everything a Heisman Trophy winner should be, on the field and off, but centers just don't get invited to New York. Several defensive players should be considered for the various individual honors that defensive players can realistically get. But McCarron is the only real possibility to make it to New York as a candidate, to say nothing of being a possible winner. There will be candidates with bigger statistics, perhaps dozens of them. But one has to consider whether there are five players who deserve a vote more than McCarron does.

There won't be much buzz about such a thing in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban's response to a Heisman Trophy question on Monday, with the Crimson Tide's most daunting stretch of the year, would likely be unprintable.

There are some Heisman Trophy tangibles that McCarron might not have, in terms of statistics. But, as this week showed, if the Heisman goes not to the nation's most outstanding player but instead to its most irreplaceable one, he would have to get strong consideration.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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