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Saturday, January 7, 2012
Questions surround title game quarterbacks

By Edward Aschoff

AJ McCarron, Jordan Jefferson
Alabama's AJ McCarron and LSU's Jordan Jefferson will face off Monday night in New Orleans.
NEW ORLEANS -- Auburn had Cam Newton.

Alabama had Greg McElroy.

Florida had Tim Tebow, twice (though Chris Leak was the starter in 2006).

And LSU had Matt Flynn.

All solid national championship quarterbacks.

This time, the quarterbacks enter Monday’s Allstate BCS National Championship Game with some concern attached to their names.

For Alabama, it’s the talented but young AJ McCarron. For LSU, it’s embattled senior Jordan Jefferson. Together, they create more questions than answers.

McCarron probably hasn’t received the criticism Jefferson has. As a first-year starter, the sophomore is allowed a mulligan here and there. His year has consisted of 2,400 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions. But it also featured seven games in which he threw for fewer than 200 yards, including the final four games of the regular season, among them Alabama's Nov. 5 showdown with LSU.

His decision-making has been questionable at times and there are more than a handful of times in which McCarron tried to do too much, and while that’s natural for a youngster, it can’t happen Monday.

“Growing as a quarterback all year long, I felt like I've done a pretty good job so far,” McCarron said. “Coming in your first year you're not going to know a whole lot going into it. As of now, I feel like I've been here forever.

“This season's taken a long time.”

It feels like it’s been a tremendously long career for Jefferson. His four years at LSU have seemed like eight and he’s always been such a wild card for the Tigers. He's thrown 34 career touchdowns in 41 starts. To put that in perspective, Georgia's Aaron Murray threw 35 touchdowns this season.

It's been a rocky career for Jefferson, and he's had his share of rocky moments in 2011. His 33-yard performance against Georgia in this year’s SEC championship seemed to set quarterback play back, and he’s completed double-digit passes in a game just once this season, when he threw for 208 yards on 18-of-29 passing.

He’ll enter Monday’s game with fewer than 700 passing yards in nine games. Granted, Jefferson didn’t reclaim his starting spot until mid-November, but he averages just nine pass attempts a game.

And unlike McCarron, fans have let Jefferson know when they’re unhappy. The boo birds that greeted him during the Kentucky game after he returned from his four-game suspension for his role in a bar fight resurfaced at times when Jefferson wasn’t playing well. Most notably, they surrounded Jefferson during an eventual scoring drive against Arkansas and a few times against Georgia.

“Once they see that error occur, I guess it makes them mad a little bit, I guess,” Jefferson said of the boos.

But like his team has all season, Jefferson blocks out the negativity on the field. He can’t control it, so he doesn’t bother with it. It’s just like his reaction to his poor play. Jefferson prides himself on quarterback amnesia.

“Playing quarterback, you’re not always expected to have a perfect performance,” he said. “That’s why you have to put the bad performances behind you and try to find ways to improve for the next performance.”

McCarron stresses over his mistakes more, but only because he’s a perfectionist. Curing his field issues is mandatory for McCarron to get through a practice session, and that attitude should take him far in this league.

“Every game you're not going to be perfect going into the game, especially after the game,” he said. “You just try to eliminate as many mistakes as you possibly can.”

They won’t be perfect. That’s why there are other players to lean on at times. McCarron and Jefferson aren’t true stars and don’t have the flashiest stats, but with help from those around them, their teams are playing for a national title and one will be hoisting that coveted crystal ball Monday night.

It could always be worse, LSU offensive coordinator Greg Studrawa said. LSU’s quarterback play could be like it was the three years after its 2007 championship, when quarterbacks threw 48 touchdowns to 37 interceptions and LSU took a back seat to teams.

“Up-and-down, in my opinion,” he said, “has been better than it’s been.”