The perfect recipe

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's something different about trophies at the University of Alabama. Like children, they're best seen and not heard.

They're everywhere but not spoken of. The crystal football hovers above the entrance to the athletic offices, the Heisman Trophy in a hall that leads out to the practice field. There are awards for linebackers, linemen and everything in between.

Alabama is nothing if not decorated. And for Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, he'd like those accolades to speak for themselves. Otherwise, don't expect to hear much in the way of hype coming out of his mouth.

AJ McCarron has emerged as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy this season, with a 303-yard passing performance against Tennessee on Saturday night only further bolstering his resume. He's No. 1 in the country in efficiency with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions.

So what's the most Saban's willing to say about his junior quarterback?

"AJ has played very, very well for us," he said. "He hasn't turned the ball over, makes a lot of good choices and decisions."

The sales pitch didn't quite have the ringing endorsement you'd expect.

When asked point-blank about McCarron's Heisman chances, Saban was evasive. He mentioned McCarron's name one time in a 300-word response in which he asked rhetorical questions like, "Is that the most important thing you do is how do you play? How do you execute? How do you play?"

"We're all for our guys getting recognition and we're pleased and flattered that some of our players are up for awards and have a chance to be recognized for their hard work and effort, but at the same time they all need to understand that you've never really arrived," Saban added flatly.

What it boiled down to was simple, according to Saban. So simple it was like baking a cake.

"Everybody knows what that recipe is for them," he said. "It's just like your mother makes a good cake, as long as you use the same ingredients -- I love that carrot cake -- but if she changes the ingredients, the cake doesn't taste the same. Same thing with players."

You can't say Saban isn't quick on his feet, the cooking analogy yet another example of him sticking to his message at all times.

But McCarron's numbers are speaking for themselves this year. On Monday, he was named as one of 16 finalists for the Davey O'Brien Award, given annually to college football's top quarterback.

It wasn't but a year ago that McCarron was labeled as a game manager, a byproduct of a dominant defense and a Heisman-caliber tailback. Now, he's the one being spotlighted for the award.

"He's stepped out of that role as a game manager," UA tight end Michael Williams said. "He's learning to take over. He's learning to lead us."

To Kevin Norwood, Alabama's second-leading receiver, "AJ has always been AJ." We're just starting to take notice.

"AJ always makes a difference, he's the leader on the team," Norwood said. "He gets us going."

With McCarron at the helm, Alabama's offense has gone to new heights. Explosive, dynamic, unstoppable -- words rarely associated with UA's offense a year ago -- are coming out of the mouths of coaches each week.

Said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley: "They say they're not a big-play offense, but they do it every game."

The truth is, Alabama doesn't say a lot about itself. Even after walloping Tennessee to the tune of 539 total yards, Saban said the explosive plays were, "Something we need to do more of."

Maybe he and Dooley hadn't had time to compare notes. Even then, it's unlikely he would have acknowledged it.

Saban will talk and talk and talk about improving, but accomplishments are something he doesn't cite. The glistening trophies on the walls, the gold-laden titles encased in glass. Those are superfluous.

He's baking a cake and mettle is the only material he's after. Luckily for him, his quarterback has it.