Texas A&M vs. Alabama: A.J. McCarron is not this game's Heisman contender

Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

A.J. McCarron is getting sudden Heisman love after leading Alabama to a win over LSU. But if we're going by what they've done, Johnny Manziel is the only candidate in Texas A&M-Alabama.

Caveat 1: We don't know who will win the Heisman. Right now, I don't really care, but I'd give it to Collin Klein if a November 6 Heisman was such a thing.

Anyone who saw A.J. McCarron complete a screen pass to T.J. Yeldon, which Yeldon carried for game-winning yards behind game-winning blocks, and reached for the term HEISMAN MOMENT either was caught in the emotion or is the kind of person who likes calling things HEISMAN MOMENTS. It's a college football cliche of NFL-fan proportions, and it did not even apply here.

Caveat 2: A.J. McCarron has been very good and is a crucial part of the country's best team. He's almost exactly the quarterback Alabama needs. He makes no major mistakes, but he's more than just a maker of no mistakes. He's third in the country in efficiency, which you don't reach simply by not screwing up.

For one drive, McCarron carved up a Tigers defense that suddenly got "reckless" -- other than that, he had a bad game. Fourteen of 27 for 165 yards was good enough to win, which is what matters. But it's not Heisman stuff, no matter how it ended.

And yeah, that was against LSU's defense, which is giving up even fewer yards per game than last year's No. 3-ranked unit did. Everybody has bad games against LSU*. The point is that McCarron's been very good, but not SOMEONE HAND HIM TROPHIES amazing.


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But that doesn't mean there isn't a viable contender in Texas A&M-Alabama for the title of college football's most outstanding player. There is exactly one, and he dressed up as Scooby Doo on Halloween.

Bill Connelly:

Alabama plays at a slow pace and is usually blowing up its opponents enough that McCarron doesn't play in the fourth quarter. We shouldn't hold that against him.

What we SHOULD hold against him is that he's been a good-not-great quarterback. He takes sacks, first of all, which hurts his averages. McCarron has averaged more than 7.7 yards per attempt just twice, against Arkansas (11-for-16 for 189 yards) and Tennessee (17-for-22, 306, four touchdowns, two sacks), a team that just made Troy's Corey Robinson look Heisman-worthy. He threw four touchdowns against Western Kentucky, but took six sacks. He completed 73 percent versus Ole Miss, but averaged 5.5 yards per attempt. And in his "Heisman performance," he went 1-for-7 for zero yards in the second half before the final drive, and after three lovely passes, his touchdown was a screen that was perfectly blocked (by players not named McCarron) with perfect running (ditto).

McCarron might become Alabama's first two-time title-winning quarterback, and with his game falling apart in Baton Rouge, he figured out how to rally his team. He is completing two-thirds of his passes and has 12 straight games without an interception. He is more than a game manager when he needs to be, and he spends most of his time being a perfect game manager. Isn't that enough? Do we HAVE to pretend he's also a Heisman candidate? Are we THAT unsold on our current Heisman leaders? Because I've got to say … there are some pretty damn good candidates right now.

Kansas State's Collin Klein has a chance at both a 2,500 (passing yards)/1,000 (rushing yards) season AND a spot in the national title game opposite McCarron. USC's Marqise Lee is putting together one of the most transcendent receiver seasons of all time (current pace over 14 games: 137 catches, 2,000 yards, 19 touchdowns and 29.4 yards per kick return). Oregon's Kenjon Barner just rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns at USC and is on pace for 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns (and almost 300 receiving yards). Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Georgia's Jarvis Jones have more impact on their respective defenses than any one player should. And yes, Johnny Manziel is on pace for nearly 3,700 passing yards, 1,300 rushing yards and 45 combined touchdowns. As a redshirt freshman. And not only that, but he can one-up McCarron on a per-attempt basis. He has averaged better than 7.5 yards per pass attempt in five games … and in those same five games, he also rushed 66 times for 605 yards.

Leave the rings to McCarron and let somebody else take home the statue.

Caveat 3: Alabama might smother and embarrass Johnny Manziel on Saturday. How do you think McCarron would do against Alabama's defense in a live game?

1. Manziel has produced more.

Manziel ranks second in the country in yards per game (383.2). McCarron ranks No. 82 (200.6).

Stats don't prove which player is better. They play in vastly different offenses, for one thing. But stats do matter for the specific, weird discussion that is a Heisman debate. The last four Heisman-winning quarterbacks have ranked Nos. 2 (Robert Griffin III), 3 (Cam Newton), 4 (Sam Bradford) and 7 (Tim Tebow) in total yards. Not 82nd.

Take away Manziel's legs (which is ghastly and illegal), and he still outgains McCarron by 75.4 yards per game. And by my count, he's tied with Seth Doege for the national lead in total touchdowns (31), with 11 more than McCarron.

(Manziel is also probably a better tackler.)

2. Manziel has done more with less.

Alabama is the most talented team and most well-oiled program in the country. Texas A&M is coming off a 7-6 season, has a new coach and hasn't finished a season ranked in the top five since 1956 under Bear Bryant. Not to say anybody can succeed as Bama's quarterback, but you've seen how they've done in the pros.

If we replaced each quarterback with a run-of-the-mill player, A&M might be something like 5-4. Alabama would be 8-1 at worst.

McCarron simply gets more help. It's easier to outscore teams that put up only nine points a game, as the Tide's opponents average, than to have to post at least 21 every game, as Manziel does. Alabama has had one of the country's five best defenses for five years running.

McCarron's team also gives him more chances to score. The Tide defense has handed the ball back to McCarron via 23 takeaways, good for 10 nationally. A&M's forced a pitiful eight, ranking No. 120.

If Bama loses the ball, it's coming right back. Not so for the Aggies.

Bottom line: while McCarron has accounted for 46.9 percent of his team's No. 48 offense, Manziel means 68.4 percent of his team's No. 5 offense. Why are we even talking about this?

3. Manziel's not as careless as you might think.

* Everybody has bad games against LSU, even Johnny Football, who threw three picks against the Tigers. He also accounted for 104 more yards against LSU than McCarron did, but that's for another bullet.

McCarron has yet to throw an interception, while Manziel has thrown six. Not much to argue there. LET'S ARGUE THERE

Manziel's thrown 101 more passes and makes more downfield throws. More risk. His interceptions total is really nothing to moan about -- it's tied with Landry Jones and Braxton Miller. It's fewer than Matt Barkley, Aaron Murray, Matt Scott, Ryan Nassib, Nick Florence, Doege, and so on have thrown. And none of those guys has had to play LSU.

McCarron's also fumbled four times (the same as Manziel, who's had 104 more total carries and sacks), with Bama recovering thrice.

Mark this as a point for McCarron, but it's the only case that can be made in his favor (even though, if not being intercepted is what a Heisman's about, Louisiana Tech's Colby Cameron is your guy -- he has zero despite 154 more throws than McCarron).

I get that we want to praise the quarterback of the best team, especially when he's good. That's what we've become accustomed to the Heisman meaning. But bolting on a HEISMAN MOMENT narrative where it doesn't belong only serves to diminish what McCarron's accomplishing, because it sets him against players who are simply more spectacular.

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