The SEC's 25 best players: No. 5

The next player in our countdown should be plenty familiar with SEC fans. A three-year starter, he became the face of a program and a conference.

No. 5: AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama, Sr.

2013 summary: He went from a “game manager” to Heisman Trophy contender in the span of a season, ultimately finishing second to Jameis Winston in the award balloting. McCarron threw for 3,036 yards, 28 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Though a rough Sugar Bowl performance soured an otherwise successful senior season, he wind up a respectable 11th nationally in Adjusted QBR (82.7)

Most recent ranking: Ranked No. 4 in the 2013 preseason countdown

Making the case for McCarron: Aaron Murray had his moments. So did Zach Mettenberger and Connor Shaw. And, of course, Johnny Manziel stole the show plenty of times as well.

But McCarron was outdone by no one in 2013. It took a last-minute miracle for Auburn to hand Alabama its first loss of the season, and McCarron couldn’t be blamed for the defeat. His 99-yard go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter could have been the highlight of the night had Chris Davis not gone 109 yards for the win with no time left.

Still, McCarron was as good as ever. He became the first Alabama quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards, and he did it with a receiving corps that dealt with its fair share of injuries. He came up three touchdowns shy of breaking his own single-season record for touchdown passes, and he did it without the benefit of playing in the SEC Championship Game. In the end, McCarron became No. 1 in the Alabama record books for career wins, touchdowns thrown, passing yards and completion percentage.

These aren’t “lifetime achievement” awards we’re handing out, but it’s impossible to ignore the career McCarron had in Tuscaloosa.

The rundown: