MIAMI — The coincidence most likely isn't lost on AJ McCarron.
The junior quarterback leads Alabama in search of its second consecutive national title when the Crimson Tide meets Notre Dame on Monday night in Miami, the home of his favorite college team during his childhood.
But one look at McCarron's career and you might come to the conclusion he has: This was just meant to be.
"You know, I grew up a big Miami Hurricanes fan," said McCarron, a native of Mobile, Ala. "I love the U, but I just felt like, at the end of the day, it was the best situation for me to stay in the state, play for Coach (Nick) Saban."
It is a decision that has paid off for McCarron and Alabama. He is 24-2 as a starter and has won an SEC title and a BCS national championship title. In his two years he has thrown for 5,692 yards. And first-year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier says he has the potential to be even better.
"AJ's ceiling is so high," Nussmeier said. "I feel like he's just starting to scratch the surface of where he's going to go as a player."
In a position that is so high profile in a program that can be described as nothing short of sacred among its loyal fans, he is part of a lineage that includes names such as Bart Starr, Joe Namath and Ken Stabler.
In other words, it's not easy being McCarron.
"Playing quarterback at the University of Alabama, everybody knows it can be tough, but I think when they expect so much out of you, I think it also brings the best out of you as a player because you never really want to let anybody down, especially your teammates, because you go out every Saturday expecting to win," he said.
"I think in the end it helps you as a player grow and actually become a winner and know how to win."
McCarron has the arm strength and enough speed to be a different type of quarterback from the role he primarily has had at Alabama: the guy known most for handing the ball to big-time running backs, such as Eddie Lacy this season. But he bristles at the notion that his job is simply "to manage the game."
So, too, does Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who said McCarron's importance to the Tide is immeasurable.
"He's the driver," Diaco said. "He's the coach on the field. You can see he puts them in the right spots. … The quarterback conducts the game, just like if Nick Saban was taking the snap himself.
"He doesn't put the team in bad spots. He doesn't make poor decisions with the ball. He's working the game and managing the game and putting the offense in the appropriate plays, just like you'd think the inside linebacker or the safety would do for their defense. It's really an incredible organization to watch offensively led by the quarterback."
If McCarron can lead Alabama to victory Monday night, he will cement his legacy among Crimson Tide quarterbacks. But for the kid whose parents grew up rabid Tide fans and dreamed of this moment for their son, it's not really about anything but winning for his team. And how would he like to be remembered?
"I'm not the type of guy to really think (about that)," McCarron said. "As long as my teammates know that I'm a good leader, my coaching staff knows that I'm going to go out to win every game, I take everything serious. … But hopefully at the end of the day they can at least say I was a winner, that the team I was part of was a winner."