Should You Take SI's McCarron Cover Seriously?

Sports Illustrated

If only there was a guideline for this sort of thing.

Gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated this week is Alabama's A.J. McCarron. After calling him "King Crimson", a reference to a progressive rock band most people under 30 haven't heard of, it says:

On the Brink of a THIRD NATIONAL TITLE Is It Time to Think About AJ McCarron As One of the Best Ever?

All capitalization and (missing) punctuation from the original.

The article isn't out yet so we can't dive into this too deeply, but let's stop and think a bit. First, let's acknowledge the weasel words of "one of the best ever" instead of "the best ever". Both titles are subjective, but the former is more so. You get to create your own guidelines for it, so therefore you can fit about whatever you want into it. It's very handy.

But anyway, the criteria being used here for putting McCarron up there is team success. Giving quarterbacks credit for wins and losses is even less sensical than giving credit to baseball pitchers for them. I can prove it. Each of McCarron's last two regular seasons have finished 11-1. Florida went 11-1 in 2012. Was the quarterback play equal across the two teams? Exactly.

It's hard to put McCarron into the absolute upper echelon for two reasons. One is that he has been on teams overflowing with incredibly talented players. It's hard to isolate what success is attributable to him alone when the NFL drafts eight or nine of his teammates every year. Second, he's not asked to do as much as some other quarterbacks. That's not his fault, but he accomplishes less than, say, Johnny Manziel because he doesn't have to. His stats just don't pop in the same way that others of his era do, and that explains why he's yet to even get invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony despite his teams' successes.

Finally, this is a classic case of Betteridge's law of headlines. That aphorism says, "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no." It describes a tactic of lazy headline writers who try to juice up interest in stories by making it sound like doubt is present where none exists. Think about it if you turned things around where headlines were questions where the answer is "yes". Did you see any of these headlines this past weekend?

  • Did Auburn beat Georgia 43-38?
  • Is Alabama still the No. 1 team in the polls?
  • Does Richard Billingsley's computer poll make no sense whatsoever?

If you did, incidentally, never read anything from that publisher again. Don't encourage that kind of behavior. We try to avoid this law around here, mainly by not asking yes-or-no questions.

Is it time to start thinking about McCarron as one of the best ever? No. Either it's already past time based on his individual exploits, or if you really want to pin it all on team success, then it's not time yet. Alabama has the toughest road ahead of the four remaining undefeated BCS conference teams, after all, with Auburn and possibly either Missouri or South Carolina still to come. There is no guarantee he'll even play in the SEC Championship Game yet, much less get a third BCS title ring.

If Bama wins out, the team will have gone 39-2 with McCarron as the starting quarterback. From 2000-2002, Miami (FL) went 38-2 with Ken Dorsey as the starting quarterback. The team narrowly missed out on the national title game rematch with FSU in 2000, won the title as an undefeated team in 2001, and lost the 2002 national title game in double overtime on a controversial call. In 2011, Alabama would have missed out on a national title game rematch with LSU had Oklahoma State not gagged away its game against Iowa State. It would have won the national title as an undefeated team in 2013 under this hypothetical, and it was fortunate enough to lose its squeaker in 2012 in the regular season rather than the BCS title game.

In other words, there will be only very small differences in Dorsey's team record and McCarron's team record. Their stats are going to end up fairly close too. When people discuss the all time greats these days, no one outside the Miami fan base mentions Dorsey. I wonder how many fans even remember Dorsey without being reminded at this point.

As I said earlier, everyone can set his or her own criteria for "one of the best ever", so you can answer yes or no however you like. My guess is that he's going to end up like Dorsey—beloved by his own fan base but relatively faded from memory as time goes on. Maybe helping his team win a third national title would help prevent that, but ultimately it doesn't matter. If he's one of your best ever, then that's cool. If he's not, that's cool too. It's unlikely that a mere SI cover should make any difference in the discussion.

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