One quarterback is a pro-style athlete with a national championship already under his belt. The other is a spread quarterback who has tasted much success in his young career.
Who has the edge in the BCS Title Game at this position?
A.J. McCarron, RS Junior
6'4" 210 pounds
'12 stats: 191 for 286, 66.8%, 2,669 yards, 26 TD, 3 INT, 48 rushes, -5 yards, 1 TD
Career: 440 for 662, 66.4%, 5,692 yards, 45 TD, 8 INT, 84 rushes, -37 yards, 3 TD
Blake Sims, RS Sophomore
6'0" 212 pounds
'12 stats: 5 for 10, 50%, 77 yards, 30 rushes, 187 yards, 2 TD
Career: 5 for 10, 50% 77 yards, 52 rushes, 294 yards, 2 TD
Phillip Ely, RS Freshman
6'1" 198 pounds
'12 stats: 3 for 4, 75%, 42 yards, 1 TD, 1 rush, -2 yards
Career: Same as above
Everett Golson, RS Freshman
6'0" 185 pounds
'12 stats: 166 for 282, 58.8%, 2,135 yards, 11 TD, 5 INT, 89 rushes, 305 yards, 5 TD
Career: Same as above
Tommy Rees, Junior
6'2" 210 pounds
'12 stats: 34 for 59, 57.6%, 436 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, 4 rushes, -13 yards, 1 TD
Career: 403 for 634, 63.5%, 4,413 yards, 34 TD, 24 INT, 47 rushes, -71 yards, 1 TD
Andrew Hendrix, RS Sophomore
6'2" 220 pounds
'12 stats: 5 for 7, 71.4%, 55 yards, 8 rushes, 41 yards
Career: 23 for 44, 52.2%, 304 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, 33 rushes, 203 yards, 1 TD
DEPTH & EXPERIENCE
Here's one big advantage for the Irish as they have some of the best depth and experience at quarterback in the country with two players having 10 or more starts in their careers plus a third option that has seen a decent amount of action over the past two seasons.
Certainly Alabama's quarterback A.J. McCarron has a lot of experience but it's not overwhelming as this is only his second year as the starter in Tuscaloosa. Put another way, McCarron only has 7 more career starts than Notre Dame's backup Tommy Rees.
However, McCarron has obviously played in a lot of big games since the start of the 2011 season and there's something to be said for the importance of such experience. Golson (and to a lesser extent Rees) have seen some big games over their careers, particularly this season with an undefeated record on the line, but Death Valley against LSU, the SEC championship, and national title games are on another level to even USC at the Coliseum, and Oklahoma in Norman.
There's a lot of chatter about Golson possibly getting hurt, Rees coming in, and how bad this would be for Notre Dame's chances. But what happens if McCarron gets injured?
The Tide's position if that happens is clearly more precarious. Athlete-turned running back-turned read option quarterback Blake Sims is the backup but Alabama may turn to Phillip Ely to run the offense if McCarron goes out for an extended period of time or longer.
TALENT & PRODUCTIVITY
This is an interesting conversation because I'd argue Golson is better than his numbers suggest, and while I wouldn't say McCarron isn't as good as his numbers suggest, there's more to the story than his stats.
One could say McCarron isn't the focal point of the offense or that he's not asked to do much the vast majority of the time he's on the field. This is all true and he's working behind perhaps the country's best offensive line and maybe handing off to the best running back duo in the country.
Nevertheless, McCarron's numbers are pretty fabulous across the board and he's come through in the clutch numerous times during his 2-year reign as starter in Tuscaloosa. He provided a late dagger against Georgia in the SEC title game, and engineered a game-winning drive against LSU earlier in the season. In both instances he wasn't having his best game and still came through in the end.
The national title game last year also sticks out as a shining moment for McCarron. That was a game where Saban & Co. did give him more responsibility and he responded by tying his career high in completions (23) and successfully firing numerous first down hookups that kept LSU off-balance all night long.
But when we look at talent and productivity specifically there is more there with Golson. At the very least, his ceiling is higher. Golson is a much better runner (although don't sleep on McCarron's ability to pick up some yards), he has a stronger arm, and he's much better at improvising when the original play-call breaks down.
Also, barring a game of a lifetime from someone like Riddick, the Irish offense is so much more dependent upon Golson than Tide offense with McCarron. This speaks to Golson's budding talent as much as it does the rest of the talent on Notre Dame's offense.
Golson is young but he has the skills and Notre Dame looks to him to escape pressure, pick up first downs with his legs, and be an overall athletic playmaker. He can't match McCarron's overall production (Golson is 3,557 yards and 34 touchdowns behind him career-wise) yet Everett has usually been very productive when asked to do more in the Notre Dame offense.
This matchup is pretty even.
McCarron has a lot going for him---an outstanding touchdown to interception ratio, very good completion percentage, and numerous clutch career moments---but I don't think he's so productive on a game-by-game basis that he's got Golson beat.
In some ways he reminds me of a more athletic and wealthier man's version of Ken Dorsey. His numbers are much better than Dorsey's but he's also surrounded by 3 or 4 other offensive players that are seen as more important to the success of the unit.
The problem with Golson is obviously his inexperience but also that he's likely going to be asked to carry the offense for large stretches in this game---this is both a positive and a negative. That could lead to him falling flat on his face---something that likely isn't even an option for McCarron because he'll only be throwing 22 to 25 passes and many of them high percentage throws or deep play-action passes built off the success of the Alabama running game.
If you look at McCarron's numbers against ranked teams he's averaging 16 completions a game and 1 touchdown per contest. The odds that he's a key to a victory are clearly much smaller than with Golson.
Golson is riskier, but he's also capable of putting up 240 passing yards, 65 rushing yards, and numerous big plays that don't really wow folks who just look at the box score after the fact.
It's crazy to think about, but if Everett steps up and Notre Dame wins this game he'll be as hyped or more hyped next year than his fellow redshirt freshmen quarterbacks John Manziel and Marcus Mariota. Golson has the chance to cap off a Cinderella season for the ages but it'll be tough as nails.