The third-ranked Crimson Tide’s quarterback wants to end one more season on top, if only in the minds of as many college football fans as possible. He’s collected the final crystal trophy of his career, but hopes the senior class will leave with one more huge statement in the Sugar Bowl against No. 11 Oklahoma.
“We put a lot of work into this program to make it what it is today,” McCarron said. “It’s only right we finish out on top. We still have a chance for a 12-win season, Sugar Bowl championship, which is huge. It’s a BCS bowl. Not a lot of teams in Alabama history have won 12 games.
“Not only that, I saw something someone sent me, that Vegas said if we played Florida State or Auburn again we’d still be favored in points. So we have a chance to show the country we are the best team. We might not win the national championship, but we can have everyone talking about us more than the national championship team. And that’s happened in the past.”
What do you give the quarterback who seems to have everything? The benefit of the doubt, perhaps. Alabama won’t get another chance to prove it on the field after losing to No. 2 Auburn to close the regular season.
McCarron has already led the Tide (11-1) to two national championships and been part of a third. He’s won 36 games in three seasons as a starter, an Alabama record and seventh-most in NCAA annals for a starting quarterback.
Individually, he won the Maxwell Award for college football’s player of the year and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the top senior quarterback. He was runner-up to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston for the Heisman Trophy.
“The guy’s fabulous,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. “He throws a great ball. He’s intelligent in how he plays. He manages the game. He’s a leader for their team. He makes very few mistakes. He throws the football well to some great receivers.
“He’s all you want in a quarterback.”
And at one point, however briefly, McCarron wanted to play for Oklahoma, the team he’s finishing his career against.
“It’s crazy, because the night before I decided to pick the school, I was gonna sign with Oklahoma, so it’s just crazy that I’m playing them,” he said.
“I just liked their football. And then you had (quarterback) Sam Bradford there, so during recruiting as a 17-, 18-year-old, your mind changes about 20 times a day. At the moment, I guess they were just the hot school that I wanted to go to. I’m pretty sure I probably before that night thought about a bunch of other schools, too.”
Things have worked out quite well for both McCarron and the Tide.
He’ll leave with a number of Alabama records, including career passing yards (8,632), touchdowns (75) and completion percentage (67.0). McCarron just won’t go out with a three-peat.
“AJ has done a fantastic job here for us,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “I’d like to see AJ have the opportunity to play well in his last game, for the team to have success. I’m sure he’s a little disappointed that we are where we are. I think that he’s had a great career here. He’s certainly won some marvelous awards that have recognized the career that he’s had here.
“I think he’s going to have a great future as a football player. I’d just really like to see it end the right way for him here in terms of his performance and our team’s performance.”
The only previous time in McCarron’s career Alabama didn’t win the title was the 2010 season, when he was Greg McElroy’s backup. The Tide blew out No. 7 Michigan State 49-7 in the Capital One Bowl and is 36-3 since.
McCarron said he’s not treating this game as a chance to improve his NFL draft stock.
“I’m committed to this team,” he said. “That’s my job. Play my game and play the best I can for us. Whatever happens, happens in the future. I’m pretty sure if (ESPN draft analyst) Mel Kiper thinks I’m fourth round still, then one game isn’t going to change his mind.
“There’s nothing I can do but play for my team.”