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Is McCarron punished for being team player when it comes to Heisman?

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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala.

You might have to change. I might have to change. We’re a fast-twitch culture now, a Twitter-culture, a highlight-culture, a sound-bite culture. Information, opinions and decisions all like fast food.

And AJ McCarron’s greatness takes a little time to grasp, appreciate, accept. Are we taking the time? Because Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel won the past two Heisman trophies, and more and more this award has been reduced to which quarterback wows most on highlight shows.

It needs to be more. The Heisman isn’t an ESPY.

McCarron should win this year’s Heisman. I’ve come around. I’ve changed. He’s the best quarterback who never loses a game. He doesn’t cause trouble off the field. He doesn’t make mistakes on it.

If he leads No. 1 Alabama to yet another big win this Saturday, at No. 4 Auburn in the Iron Bowl, then he’ll need just two more wins for a third straight national championship.

Yet, he has never even been to New York. Not for vacation, not for a game, and not as one of five finalists for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Does that bother him?

“I feel disrespected,’’ he said. “But I think it helps me become the player I am.’’

To be fair, I had to ask McCarron three times about that before he answered that way. The first time, he said he just wanted to focus on winning. The second time, he said it doesn’t bother him. The third time, he came around.

The rest of the Heisman field started to disappear Saturday. Marcus Mariota lost again, Bryce Petty’s nerves got to him. Jameis Winston is in the middle of a sexual assault investigation, though he has not been charged. He is still the favorite while voters wait to see what a state attorney does.

Suddenly, Boston College tailback Andre Williams has jumped near the top of the race, maybe even ahead of McCarron.

But this still comes down to a personal rivalry:

McCarron vs. Manziel.

They might get along fine, as they’ve both said, but the truth is they represent opposite things.

Manziel represents what we love best. Thanks to amazing highlights last year, he broke into our celebrity culture.

Meanwhile, McCarron went unnoticed, winning his second straight national championship. His national title took a backseat that night to Brent Musburger salivating over McCarron’s girlfriend, Katherine Webb.

Manziel was gaining momentum in the Heisman race until last week, when he was awful against LSU, which doesn’t have much defense.

The argument for Manziel was that he’s technically having a better year than he did last year. Fine, but no one cares that his passing is more accurate. He doesn’t have a signature win this year. More importantly, he doesn’t have a signature moment in a signature win, like he did with the freelanced touchdown last year against Alabama.

That’s what got him the Heisman last year. The moment. We saw it over and over.
McCarron just doesn’t excite.

But it isn’t fair to punish him for being a team player. For staying out of trouble. For defining himself by selflessness. For listening to his coach.

At one point, those were considered good things.

This week, McCarron was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and, for the first time, there was a little momentum about him and the Heisman. Or at least a mention.

“It’s an honor, first and foremost, but that’s the last thing on my mind,’’ he told me. “I’ve always said if it comes, that would be great and dandy, but at the same time, that’s not my ultimate goal.’’

He said his goal is to win another national championship and share it with his teammates.

McCarron has learned to be like this. He said when he arrived at Alabama as an 18-year-old that personal awards meant plenty to him. This is Nick Saban’s approach, but that doesn’t mean he has turned McCarron into a robot.

The feeling seems to be that without McCarron, a different cog could replace him, and that this is all Saban. That’s unfair to McCarron.

Doing what your coach says is not necessarily a bad thing.

Game manager. That’s what Saban called him a few years ago and it has haunted McCarron ever since. People see it as a slam, that they don’t want someone who can only color within the lines.

Honestly, I have gone back and forth on this, too. Can you really not-make-mistakes your way to the Heisman? Don’t we want free spirits?

McCarron would never admit this, but I believe it does bother him. He just can’t bring himself to let that out, that the rewards aren’t going to what he believes in.

The closest he came was at the SEC media days in July, shortly after Manziel was kicked out of the Manning camp. Manziel spoke to reporters one day, then left in a rush for the ESPYs.

Then, McCarron said he wouldn’t talk about Manziel, and then went on to talk only about himself.

The problem was, everything he said about himself drew direct contrasts to Manziel.

Do you watch the ESPYs?

“I didn’t watch any of it,’’ McCarron said at the time. “I’m busy trying to get my teammates to play the best they can play.’’

He also said this: “I can’t go out and act a fool in public. I can’t go out and drink excessively and be wild. I can’t do that. I’m not saying that I want to in any type of way, but I want to be the type of (person) younger kids can look up to ...’’

At the time, it sounded like sour grapes. I said he sounded like the runner-up in a beauty pageant, complaining that she had aced the interview category.

But at some point, the guy is right. He just keeps winning. And if he does it again Saturday, then maybe people will finally take notice of the way that he stands out, by running a team.

At the very least, it should be worth a trip to New York.

Tagged: Texas A&M, Alabama, Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron

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