This is my opinion column for today’s editions:
MIAMI SHORES, Fla. — As Alabama practiced in the warm South Florida sun Thursday afternoon, no player on the field seemed to have as much fun as AJ McCarron.
The Crimson Tide is preparing to play for a national championship, and that’s serious business. At places like Alabama and Notre Dame, legacies are made or broken in games such as this. On Monday, McCarron’s team will face off with the Irish for the national title, making history one way or another.
But there he was, hooting and hollering and carrying on as friend and teammate Kenny Bell made catch after catch.
And after McCarron made his own progression of on-target throws, one after another, he jogged downfield with a smile on his face, ready to make all those passes again.
McCarron hardly looked like a guy who has a chance to accomplish more than any quarterback in Alabama’s long football history. No Crimson Tide quarterback has won two national championships as a full-time starter, and McCarron can become the first Monday. Was that on his mind at all, maybe in some small way as he had all that fun? Who knows?
We know McCarron realizes the stakes he faces every Saturday as he tries to lead Alabama to win after win after win.
When he broke down in tears after the comeback win over LSU, it looked as if he experienced the greatest release of pressure ever.
“Playing quarterback at the University of Alabama, everybody knows it can be tough,” he said.
We also know McCarron doesn’t really like to talk too much about it. He prefers to focus on the process, rather than the results. Yes, that’s what his head coach, Nick Saban, would say, but McCarron has adopted at least a little bit of Saban’s football personality.
But when McCarron does talk about it — as he did briefly Thursday — he shows how he tries to use the pressure as motivation rather than a reason to fold.
“I think when they expect so much out of you, it brings the best out of you as a player because you never really want to let anybody down, especially your teammates, because you go out every Saturday expecting to win,” he said. “I think in the end, it helps you as a player grow and actually become a winner and know how to win.”
McCarron gets called a game manager sometimes, as if that’s not a great thing to be. He doesn’t generate the excitement like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel does. McCarron has a great team surrounding him, too, and some folks fall into the trap of believing the team would be just as great with someone else taking snaps.
McCarron certainly manages games well. He also competes hard, throws accurately short or deep, and has an ability to recognize when that play from the sideline should be run as it is or changed before the snap. He’s not a bad runner on occasion, either, although he’s so valuable, his offensive coaches don’t want him to do it.
This is why he could become Alabama’s first double national champion starting quarterback. The Crimson Tide has had others who were a backup or a part-time starter for one champion and then a full-time starter for another.
And think about this: McCarron could walk out of Alabama with three championships as a starter. The Crimson Tide enters Monday’s game as a big favorite, and he’ll return next season as a senior with another talent-rich Alabama team.
Imagine that, three national championships with McCarron in charge. That’s a lot of pressure. But he seems to handle it well.