BCS: Quarterback with coolest head should win title
Published: Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 10:42 p.m.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- For a weeklong trip, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron packed 30 pairs of shoes, too many bow ties to remember, and enough hair gel to share. Some men may have been embarrassed to admit so.
McCarron was not always so sure of himself. In middle school, he was so shy that his younger brother Corey said, “He used to go get me to talk to girls for him.”
Even last season, as he led Alabama to a national championship, McCarron bristled at being called a game manager, a title still sort of attached to his name but in a complimentary way. There is a new appreciation for his role.
McCarron and Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, who will meet in tonight's Bowl Championship Series title game, have managed and owned insecurities — McCarron over that label, Golson over being benched earlier this season. The difference, it appears, is how at ease McCarron seems, having done it all before.
“He's very secure and confident, maybe to a fault,” said Barrett Jones, McCarron's roommate, who borrowed a dab of hair gel the other day.
“I don't know. I mean, he's a quarterback; he's an Alabama quarterback. You guys know how they are, that hairstyle, and he's looking all fancy. All the ladies love Alabama quarterbacks.”
For what it's worth, McCarron is dating Miss Alabama 2012.
Given more autonomy within the offense this season, McCarron, a junior, threw 26 touchdowns passes, a single-season team record, and only three interceptions. If game manager meant efficient, then it correctly applied. His quarterback efficiency rating (173) ranks second in the nation.
Yes, he managed games, but he single-handedly won them, too, his teammates said.
“AJ last year was somebody who just filled in for our offense, just sort of managed the game,” tight end Michael Williams said.
“AJ this year was more of a leader, more vocal, more of everything that we needed to make this next step.”
In November, McCarron led a 72-yard drive in 43 seconds, throwing a game-winning screen pass to T.J. Yeldon in the Crimson Tide's victory over Louisiana State to stay unbeaten. Afterward, he embraced his parents and cried, overcome with the pressure, he said, of playing quarterback at Alabama.
Yet McCarron did not flinch Saturday when he said that he had not been an Alabama fan all his life and that he once did not know much about the team's proud past. On Monday, McCarron could become synonymous with that lore if he becomes the only Crimson Tide quarterback to win two national titles.
“It's the media that makes the game so much bigger,” McCarron said Saturday. “Me, personally, I think it's just another game.”
Later Saturday, a subdued Golson appeared in front of reporters, fielding questions about what a national title at Notre Dame would do for his legacy.
Only about three months ago against Michigan, with his parents in the stands, he threw two interceptions and was benched in favor of Tommy Rees. Golson said he was mad at himself, disappointed and upset. In his up-and-down first season as a starter, this hurt the most. His teammates came to console him after the game. His coaches reminded him that they had named him the starter.
“The Michigan game, he would've pulled himself,” said Chuck Martin, Notre Dame's offensive coordinator. “He was a disaster.”
Martin and coach Brian Kelly benched Golson, for injury or ineptitude or discipline, in five games this season, and he sat out a sixth game with concussion-like symptoms. Golson, a sophomore, said it motivated him to improve, as he did later in the season. But Martin said he was not sure how the benchings affected Golson's psyche early on.
“Not only are you pulling him, but you're pulling him for last year's starter,” Martin said. “So there's a little more there. But we kept trying to convince him: ‘Don't worry; you're our guy. Just if we take you out, we're giving you a chance to breathe.' But as a young kid, he may not have took it that way.”
He added, “We were pulling him to try to win games.”
The coaches evaluated Golson and compared him with Rees, week to week, Martin said. There was no plan, he acknowledged. In public, though, Kelly declared Golson the quarterback of the future and the present, an awkward juxtaposition for an undefeated team. At times, the Fighting Irish's quarterback was holding them back.
When he sat, Golson watched Rees and better understood the offense. Then Golson torched Oklahoma, which played a readable man-to-man defense and did not often mix its defensive fronts, Martin said, adding, “It wasn't a mentally taxing day.”
The next week against Pittsburgh, Golson was pulled and then reinserted in time to throw a touchdown and scramble and dive for the game-tying two-point conversion. Notre Dame won in triple overtime, because of Golson. The benching had apparently calmed his nerves.
“I really settled down, tried to get back to what I do best as a quarterback,” Golson said. “Just improvising, kind of just being me. I kind of played a little bit looser.”
Alabama will try its best to oppress him, to blitz him, to charge him. Notre Dame will try the same with McCarron. Whichever quarterback proves most confident, most comfortable with himself, under that duress, will be the one whose legacy is most secure.
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