AJ McCarron is the Anti-Manziel during another big game week

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's big game week and AJ McCarron is reminiscing.

"I love playing away games," Alabama's quarterback said. "I've always been that way. I love playing in someone else's stadium and going in there and getting a win. One thing I'll always remember is giving Joe Paterno his last loss as a head coach.

"That will always be a cool fact, I guess."

The historical benchmark is mentioned with the proper tone regarding Penn State that season. It also is mentioned before bringing up the other historical significance of Sept. 10, 2011. That day Alabama systematically took apart Penn State 27-11. It was also the day McCarron locked down the job as Alabama's starter.

"I felt like that after the first game [a 48-7 win over Kent State] ... " he said. "[But] it definitely felt good because it helped me keep my job."

If you don't know what has happened since you're in a deeper bunker than Johnny Manziel this week. Since that momentous day, McCarron has won two BCS titles. He has three overall, counting that 2009 ring during his redshirt year.

That's already unprecedented. A fourth would make him among the most decorated players in college football history. And also, probably ineligible for the College Football Hall of Fame. You see, McCarron never has been an All-American. If it doesn't happen this year, a (possible) four-time national champion from Alabama would be left out of the Hall.

For admission, the National Football Foundation requires a player to be recognized by an outlet the NCAA uses to select its consensus All-America team.

"I didn't even know that," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "Basically, he's Coach Saban over there with the offense."

That should be enough of an endorsement. The Hall discussion is for years down the line, but in any other sport he would be a slam dunk. McCarron has as many losses as a starter as he does national championships (two). His .929 winning percentage (26-2 as a starter) is second best in SEC history. At his current rate, he will set the NCAA career record for interception ratio (one every 79.2 attempts). Only five other quarterbacks in the modern era have won back-to-back titles.

Not bad for a guy who was preseason third-team all-SEC. It's a great year for quarterbacks in the league. Georgia's Aaron Murray is on track to become the SEC's career passing leader. Manziel won the Heisman.

And all of that is OK with McCarron.

"Johnny's definitely one of the best I've ever seen. He deserves all the credit he gets," he said. "The guy won the Heisman, so ... "

So ... it's worth pointing out the obvious: McCarron enters Alabama-Texas A&M this week as the Anti-Manziel.

"That's one thing I've always taken pride in, is never brining in a bad spotlight on us as a university or Coach Saban," Alabama's redshirt senior said. "I think Coach trusts me, which is the biggest thing ... Coach will tell you trust is the No. 1 thing."

Trust not to throw an interception, trust to organize offseason workouts, trust to fall on the grenade for the criticized offensive line following the Virginia Tech game. Trust that if things get sketchy this week at Kyle Field, McCarron will be there again. In one of the few times Alabama has had to come back during its current run, McCarron led the Tide to the game-winning touchdown with 51 seconds left last year at LSU.

"That was probably the first time we had to grow up as a team and play a full 60 minutes," the quarterback said.

This week, The Anti-Manziel is the one with the hot, model girlfriend ogled by Brent Musburger. He's the one with dashing good looks. He's the one with no issues.

McCarron was Manziel's roommate at the Manning Passing Academy. Following the subsequent booting of Manziel, McCarron was asked everything from what time Johnny Footloose got in that night to why he didn't wake up his roommate the next morning.

AJ handled it like a blitz, deftly ducking the media rush at SEC media days and moving on.

In the quarterback discussion of Alabama-Texas A&M, you might have noticed that the spotlight is almost all on Manziel this week. He's the lightning rod not speaking to the media on the advice of his lawyers. (His lawyers?) McCarron, like his predecessors under Saban, are content to operate behind doors, of which there are plenty for the media at Alabama.

"I've never been one to be in the spotlight," he said. "Everybody lives their lifestyle different. Everybody criticizes Johnny for being himself. That's what ya'll get paid for -- opinions."

"The media can control what everybody thinks in the world nowadays. If they want you to look bad, they can make you look bad. If they want you to look great, they can make you look great. The media does their job of hyping up the game the way it's supposed to be hyped up. They also make the game bigger than what it is. It's just a normal Saturday."

Alabama's flat-line approach to every game is part of the reason it is more than a touchdown favorite Saturday at Kyle Field.

"He won't be the one to tell you, but everyone around here understands how good he is," safety Vinnie Sunseri said. "To do what he's done has been pretty amazing. To handle it with such class has been amazing, too.

"His family raised him really well. It's not an act. He thinks and only talks about AJ McCarron. He doesn't talk about anybody else. He worries about himself and how he carries himself. This summer, he was the first one out there, first one ready to go. He was the one kind of everyone looked to for the strength to get ready for the season.

"You know, if the sissy quarterback does it everybody else has to do it."

Sunseri points out he can say this because his older brother Tino was a quarterback at Pittsburgh.

So when McCarron's taking those bullets for the offensive line after Virginia Tech, it is not for show.

"I am not getting on them at all. I take it personally," he said. "That's the only thing that aggravates me. I'd rather they knock me. I can live with it. We've got some young guys on the offensive line who aren't used to being criticized."

Sissy?

"People respect him because of the things that he's done," Mosley said, "And he's a man of his word. In the summertime with the offensive line whether they're out of shape or didn't [lift] enough or lacking on run drills, he'd get on their butt."

It is big-game week and McCarron is reminiscing again. Ten of those 26 wins have come on the road (not counting neutral site and bowl games). Kyle Field looms as just another conquest. AJ can't wait to hear the scorn, the boos, the 12th Man and shut 'em all down. Again.

"That's one of the best feelings that you have playing this game," he said.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
 
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