November 14, 2013 10:29:08 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- At some point, the term "game manager" earned a negative connotation.
That isn't the case for Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen, who uses that term he uses for players like Alabama senior quarterback AJ McCarron. The Bulldogs' fifth-year coach uses "game manager" in the most glowing terms to describe a player who is 34-2 as a starter for the Crimson Tide.
"I think the term 'game manager' has been twisted into thinking that you're less of an athlete or less of a talent because you have so much talent around you and that's wrong," Mullen said. "When you look at a player like (McCarron), he does everything asked of him to win. Sometimes that's just getting the offense in the right calls, or sometimes that's taking a game over and throwing for 300 yards. Either job is equally critical."
As No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) prepares for its 6:45 p.m. game (ESPN) game against MSU on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium, coach Nick Saban has started to campaign for McCarron. He joined the ESPN College Gameday crew on Saturday morning and praised McCarron, something he isn't known to do.
"I think AJ's probably the most underrated player in college football," Saban said.
Later that evening, McCarron was 14 of 20 for 179 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-17 victory against then-No. 10 LSU in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"We've got to give this guy some love for the Heisman," CBS Sports college football analyst Tony Barnhart said Monday on The Tim Brando radio show. "At some point it has to be about how you play the game. I know everyone gets hung up on numbers, but this guy is perfect for what they asked him to do. He's 34-2 as a starting quarterback, two national championship rings, and he has a chance to get a third. This guys just an incredible football player. He's got to get a trip to New York."
Mullen said Monday in his media conference at the Seal Family Football Complex that McCarron makes NFL-style throws to highly recruited skill players, but he also exhibits the leadership qualities any coach looks for in a quarterback.
"They've got a fifth-year senior at quarterback that knows the system, is a competitor, is a winner, can make all the plays they need him to make," Mullen said.
This season, McCarron is sixth in the SEC in passing yards per game (226.8 yards per game), but the Crimson Tide have needed him to throw just 28 times in the fourth quarter.
"People talk about statistics all the time, and maybe his statistics are not what somebody else's are," Saban said on ESPN College Gameday last weekend. "But what you should equate things with are production, performance, efficiency, consistency, and winning. That's really what it's all about. He's done that better than I think anybody in college football."
McCarron, a former Elite 11 quarterback prospect out of Saint Paul's Episcopal School in Mobile, Ala., was the only quarterback in the Crimson Tide's 2009 recruiting class. He chose Alabama over Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma, Auburn, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Florida State, Georgia, West Virginia, and Purdue. He threw for 6,066 yards and 66 touchdowns and had just nine interceptions as a three-year starting quarterback at Saint Paul's.
"I probably shouldn't say this right before we're supposed to play them, but I like A.J. (McCarron)," MSU junior offensive tackle Blaine Clausell said.
Clausell grew up in Mobile and is a year younger than McCarron. He saw him receive all of the local spotlight after he led a rival high school to the Alabama Class 5A state championship. McCarron had 2,532 yards, 26 touchdowns and three interceptions as a junior. These days, McCarron is putting his hometown on the map with his play for the two-time defending national champions.
"I don't get sick of seeing AJ McCarron everywhere or people talking about him, or even people asking me about him," Clausell said. "Here's a guy representing Mobile for people to look up to, and that's a good thing."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.