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NCAA Football Alabama Crimson TideSEC Football

Can AJ McCarron Win the Heisman Trophy?

Alabama QB AJ McCarron

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama Crimson Tide kicked off spring practice Saturday, looking to find some answers on both sides of the ball. After all, Nick Saban’s team has the monumental task of replacing All-Americans Barrett JonesChance Warmack and Dee Milliner.

One thing that ‘Bama won’t have to worry about this fall is the quarterback position. With two years of game experience under his belt—and two national championship rings—AJ McCarron returns for his senior season, giving the Tide the type of field general that it needs to win a third straight BCS title.

Of course, McCarron’s presence under center this fall brings up an interesting question: why aren’t people talking about him as a candidate to win the Heisman Trophy?

Make no mistake about it, Johnny Manziel deserved to win college football’s most coveted trophy last year. He led the nation’s toughest conference in both rushing yards and total offense. More importantly, Manziel was at his best on the big stage, sparking the Texas A&M Aggies to an upset win over the eventual national champions in Tuscaloosa. That win by itself was enough to earn the moniker of “the most outstanding player in college football.”

However, McCarron was much closer to winning the award last season than people realize. Sure, he didn’t have the gaudy stats that some of the other top candidates had, but he did lead the nation in passing efficiency—an impressive feat considering that he threw more deep balls last year under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

In addition to his precision passing, McCarron delivered when it mattered most. With the national championship on the line, he hit several clutch throws in the final 90 seconds to lead the Tide to an improbable, game-winning 78-yard TD drive against LSU.

In other words, if McCarron had guided Alabama into the end zone on its final drive against A&M last season, the Heisman Trophy voting would have gone much differently. There aren’t many QBs that are capable of engineering last-minute scoring drives against top ten squads on back-to-back weeks.

Although he didn’t earn a trip to New York in 2012, there’s no reason to believe that McCarron won’t be in the thick of the race again this year. While he still won’t post the eye-popping numbers that some of the other favorites will, he should get more opportunities to throw the ball this year with opposing defenses gearing up to stop explosive RB TJ Yeldon.

Even if McCarron doesn’t fill out the stat sheet, he still has the advantage of being the leader on the nation’s top team. As long as he continues to excel in big games—something he’s done extremely well over the last two years—McCarron belongs in the Heisman Trophy discussion.

Can he win the college football’s top honor in 2013?

We’ll find out on September 14, when he goes head-to-head with Manziel.

Terry Johnson is a college football writer for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TPJCollFootball and/or email him at johnsoncfn@gmail.com