Although Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron has had an excellent season, he has yet to be put in a position where his team has needed him to pull its fat from the fire.
That’s what I wrote this past Thursday in my preview of this weekend’s Heisman matchups. And, as it turned out, it was McCarron’s late-game heroics that allowed No. 1 Alabama to come away with a dramatic 21-17 win over No. 5 LSU in Death Valley on Saturday night.
For many, McCarron’s direction of the Tide offense on a 72-yard drive culminating in a 28-yard touchdown pass to TJ Yeldon with 51 seconds to play will be seen as a ‘Heisman moment.’ In the post-game hubbub of what was a very high-profile game, there will be some talk that McCarron has vaulted himself into the lead in the Heisman race.
But while McCarron’s leadership and poise on that clutch drive was palpable, it’s unlikely to make much of a difference in the overall arc of the race.
What it does do is put McCarron in a very strong position to become the first Alabama quarterback since Jay Barker to make it to New York as a Heisman finalist. But is he in position to actually win? That’s another story.
While Kansas State is a couple slots behind Alabama in the team rankings, its quarterback Collin Klein is still the strong favorite to win the trophy. While many voters will be impressed by what McCarron did tonight, most will have little reason (yet) to drop Klein from the top of their ballots.
That’s because Klein’s overall numbers, combined with his status as the unquestioned leader and catalyst of a team making an upstart run at the BCS title, trumps what McCarron has done so far this year — even with this big win over LSU.
Keep in mind that before getting pulled from Kansas State’s 44-30 win over Oklahoma State due to concussion-like symptoms, Klein had 264 yards on 16 of 22 passing and 64 yards rushing, with one score. This performance will do little to slow his momentum toward the Heisman.
Meanwhile, McCarron finished 14 of 27 for 165 yards and the one very important touchdown pass. On the year, McCarron has 1,845 passing yards and 19 touchdowns with no interceptions. He’s on pace to have 2,670 passing yards and 27 touchdowns by the time the Heisman vote is due, but it would break recent historical precedent for those numbers to be good enough to win the trophy.
In other words, McCarron did a lot to help his candidacy, but he’s got a ways to go statistically before he can be considered a true threat to actually win the Heisman.
Looking out to the Pac-12, the same might also be true of Oregon running back Kenjon Barner. His 321 rushing yards and five touchdowns in a win over USC will likely make him the West Coast’s No. 1 candidate. Putting up those kinds of numbers against a traditional power always serves a Heisman contender well.
But, as with McCarron, one has to step back from the moment to look at the long view of the race. Barner now has 1,295 yards and 19 touchdowns, which puts him on pace to have 1,870 yards and 27 touchdowns by the time the Heisman vote is due. Those are very impressive numbers and conceivably enough to win the Heisman in a vacuum. The problem here is that Barner is unlikely to hit that pace given the way Oregon blows teams out. Unless the Ducks make a concerted effort to feed Barner the ball, I can’t see him getting there.
Even if Barner does hit those totals and McCarron keeps on his pace, we’ve still got to take into account how the Heisman regions stack up. McCarron can be assured of dominating the South voting region, while Klein will dominate the Southwest. Manti Te’o will do very well in the Midwest, though Braxton Miller will also get some support there. Barner’s margin in the West could get diluted by USC’s Marqise Lee, but he should win it.
Given those scenarios, the vote would be decided by which player appears on the most number of ballots nationwide, with the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions playing crucial roles. Due to the Heisman electorate’s current affinity to Klein, he’s the most likely player to capture down-ballot selections across the various regions.
Unless Klein falters in the remaining three games and creates an opening that allows McCarron or Barner to build a better case for their Heisman-worthiness, this trophy is still his to lose.