TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - AJ McCarron is 8-0 as Alabama’s starting quarterback. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes with only three interceptions.
But when he steps behind center in Saturday night’s epic showdown against No. 1 LSU, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound sophomore from Mobile, Ala., could find himself charged with leading a game-winning drive or protecting a tight late lead for the first time in his young career.
“AJ has been confident in himself, and the players are confident in him,” senior receiver Marquis Maze said. “I think he’s ready.”
McCarron, who served as Greg McElroy’s backup last year, barely won the starting job in a heated battle with redshirt freshman Phillip Sims that lasted beyond fall camp. He hasn’t looked back.
The first-time starter has completed 67 percent of his passes and ranks second in the Southeastern Conference with a passer efficiency rating of 150.39.
In an Oct. 8 rout of Vanderbilt, he tossed four touchdown passes, second-best in school history.
From late in the season opener until early in Alabama’s eighth game, he went 152 straight pass attempts without throwing an interception.
But he can’t touch the experience LSU will throw on the field Saturday with seniors Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson having combined for 44 college starts. He hasn’t even tasted the pressures of a close game yet.
“I think he’s handled himself appropriately in every game and has been effective in every game,” senior tight end Brad Smelley said. “He’s a leader. He’s shown poise this whole game in every game and played well.”
Coach Nick Saban, however, has given McCarron very few opportunities to talk about it.
Saban has made McCarron available for interviews only after two games this season and not once during any of Alabama’s game weeks. Saban was asked last month why he has instituted a true freshman-like media policy with his starting quarterback.
“My sense of it is the more you ask, the worse your chances are gonna get,” he said. “The best thing to do is let the sleeping dog lie.”
Teammates say even though Saban is blocking him from the interview room, McCarron controls the huddle like a seasoned field general.
They know they could need him against an LSU team that ranks third nationally in run defense and will surely set its sights on stopping Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson. They know they could need him to win a championship down the road.
No team has ever won a BCS national title with a freshman or sophomore as its primary quarterback.
McCarron, who has passed for 1,644 yards, could help the Crimson Tide take a huge step toward becoming the first if he manages Saturday’s stakes.
“The passing game is always big for us, because people always like to load the box for Trent,” junior tight end Michael Williams said.
“But we’re going in with our usual game plan. Whatever works best for us - whatever play gets us in the best situation - that’s what we’re going to run.”