COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- AJ McCarron won more than the scoreboard battle at Texas A&M on Saturday. He won the television battle.
No, Alabama's third-year starter and two-time national champion didn't score a knockout against his quarterbacking friend and alter ego, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Statistically and aesthetically, "Johnny Football" came away from Alabama's 49-42 victory still "Johnny Football."
Manziel made it two years in a row, performing at a must-see level against college football's top team. His 562 total yards and five touchdown passes only confirmed the "wow" factor seen by a record day-game television audience.
Because of Manziel, the Alabama rout that could have been wasn't.
But because of Manziel's two interceptions, the Texas A&M victory that could have been wasn't, and that's the line that separated McCarron and Manziel as they led their teams up and down a striped playground.
McCarron's 334 yards passing and four touchdown passes, sans the mistakes that lose football games, only confirmed McCarron's perception upgrade.
On the day when CBS deployed "Johnny Cam," McCarron made a national audience see him as more than his "game manager" label. To more than just the Alabama base and discerning college football fans, he morphed into a game winner.
There was no explaining it away with a bad Texas A&M defense, not on a day when Manziel once again made Alabama's defense look bad.
There's no asterisk for running back T.J. Yeldon's 149 yards rushing and touchdown. McCarron didn't have to do it all, but Yeldon's fumble when Alabama had a chance to avert a dramatic finish forced McCarron to win the game.
And that's saying nothing about the Manziel-like conduct penalty that prompted Yeldon's official apology this week.
Less than a year after McCarron threw the decisive interception, he called and threw the decisive touchdown pass.
Less than a year after Manziel all but clinched his Heisman with an eye-opening performance in Tuscaloosa, McCarron won an eye-opening scoring match in College Station.
McCarron once again shared the "Johnny Football" field with Manziel and won the "Johnny Football" game.
A massive television audience saw it, and opened eyes often open minds.
Maybe it wasn't just Alabama's defenses, offensive lines and running backs that won Alabama's two national titles on McCarron's watch. He just might have had something to do with it.
Even if he was just the ball handler on two great Alabama teams, he's grown into more. He just might make a lesser team better, and two games this season have raised questions about top-ranked Alabama's offensive line and secondary.
Yet there's still a better-than-average chance that McCarron will punch Alabama's ticket to the final Bowl Championship Series title game. He could very well end up one victory away from that third ring, and what are Heisman voters to think in the final 36-or-so hours before the voting deadline?
Thanks to his performance at Texas A&M, it's hard to still think of McCarron as a game manager. He managed to upgrade to a game winner.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter@jmedley_star.