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November 25, 2013

AJ McCarron not biting on 2013 Iron Bowl hype

We have identified at least one Alabama resident who believes this year's Iron Bowl is just another game.

His name is A.J. McCarron.

With hype bubbling for more than a week already, the matchup of top five teams is considered by many to be the biggest Alabama-Auburn game in history. It certainly has unprecedented consequences; For the first time in the rivalry, the winner snags the SEC West title and a spot in next week's SEC Championship.

But Alabama's quarterback? Another game. Ho-hum.

"You (media) like to make this game a lot bigger than every other game of the century, bigger than what it is," McCarron said. "It's just another Saturday, it's just another team. Let's just go out and take care of our business, play the way we're supposed to play. We'll be fine."

The unceremonious approach and faceless opponent routine is a McCarron staple by way of an Alabama staple, a cog in the renowned "Process" outlined by head coach Nick Saban. And it has worked beautifully; Alabama is after a third straight national championship. McCarron, a fifth-year senior, enters Saturday 36-2 as its starter.

McCarron has also been unflappable while treating these big spots matter-of-factly. In five career starts against top five teams - including two national championship games - he is completing 62.3 percent of his passes for 1,024 yards and six touchdowns against two interceptions.

He is 4-1 in those games.

"I think it's really important at his position that he sort stays in the moment and stays even keel. You can't get too emotional when you're playing quarterback or sort of get out of the rhythm that you have and start thinking you've got to force things or make plays or do something out of the ordinary," Saban said. "I think that's when you make emotional decisions which probably aren't always good decisions and sometime can backfire on you. You've just got to keep focusing on taking what the other team gives you.

"AJ's done a good job of that all year long and has played with a lot of consistency in the game."

So here's the irony: That demeanor and that success has made Saturday's game into a grand stage for McCarron to make a move for the biggest individual award in college football, the Heisman Trophy. It is a lock to be the most watched college football game of the weekend, and in a Heisman Trophy race that has plenty of question marks, McCarron could provide answers to Heisman voters nationwide.

Naturally, if McCarron is not concerned with the talk around this Iron Bowl, he's not concerned with hardware, either.

"If it comes, it comes," he said of the Heisman. "I just want us to win."

Teammates, like receiver Kevin Norwood, don't hesitate to make a pitch.

"I think he deserves it," Norwood said. "For a quarterback to come in, Alabama system under Nick Saban and go out and do the things he has done, helping this team win two national championships and on the way to probably winning another one, he has less interceptions than anybody. For him to not get the recognition he needs, it's ridiculous. But we can't manage that. That's up to the media and politics."

What's up to McCarron is to keep his eyes off the hype and on getting win No. 12 in 2013. Just another game.

"Yeah," McCarron said, assuring this particular Iron Bowl would not change his mindset. "Played in two national championships in a row. It's just another game."

-Reach D.C. Reeves at 205-722-0196 or dc.reeves@tuscaloosanews.com.

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