By JOHN ZENOR AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Jim McElwain has a strong opinion about John Parker Wilson's legacy among Alabama quarterbacks.
"It would be crazy if this guy doesn't go down in the history of this program as one of the greats," the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator said.
Yes, he's talking about the same Wilson who probably got as much attention in his first two seasons as the starter for mistakes and being the quarterback on struggling Alabama teams as for the fact that he was fast becoming the school's most prolific passer.
Nothing changes perceptions of quarterbacks more than winning. Wilson and his Utah counterpart, Brian Johnson, can attest to that. Both have led their teams to a dozen wins this season entering Friday night's Sugar Bowl, savvy seniors who have been efficient if not spectacular and cemented their legacies in the process.
There are 68 Football Championship Series quarterbacks with more passing yards than Wilson and 37 have outdone Johnson. None has more wins this season, though.
"Numbers are one thing, but in my opinion the No. 1 thing you look at in a quarterback is won-loss record," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "And our guy has won 20 of his last 21 starts. He's the all-time winning quarterback in Utah history.
"John Parker Wilson has done the same thing at Alabama. He hasn't put up great numbers, but he did win 12 ballgames this year and he did a great job of managing the offense. And there's no doubt that having a fifth-year senior quarterback at the helm is a big advantage."
Wilson has happily watched his numbers decline as a third-year starter for No. 4 Alabama (12-1) even as the team has moved to within one win of matching the total from the previous two years combined.
He has thrown for 2,096 yards and nine touchdowns -- both career lows as a starter. His six interceptions also are easily the fewest of his career. McElwain jokes that he has "killed" his quarterback's numbers in his first season as coordinator by relying more heavily on the running game.
Wilson is hardly complaining.
"Not throwing the ball as much I was used to or as much as a quarterback would like, that doesn't matter at all," said Wilson, who has set school career marks in such categories as passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense. "You want to win the game. I don't care. You get 12 wins, I'll hand the ball off a 100 times before I'd give up 12 wins."
Johnson hasn't had the dominant running game or a 1,300-yard rusher like Alabama's Glen Coffee to fall back on. He has passed for 2,636 yards and 24 touchdowns against nine interceptions while completing 68.3 percent of his passes.
He and Wilson were both finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award given to the nation's top senior quarterback. Like Wilson, he is content with racking up the wins instead of the 300-yard passing games (he's had two, Wilson's had none).
"I'm very proud of that," Johnson said. "Obviously at the end of the day the most important stat is the one at the left-hand side of the column. It's all about winning.
"We've had days where we had all the stats and kind of tore it up numbers-wise, but it got us a 5-5 record and we had to find a way to get in a bowl game. I'd much rather be in the position now where the numbers are solid numbers but we've won a lot of football games and gotten to a BCS bowl."
Whereas Wilson had to overcome costly mistakes in a handful of losses the previous two seasons, Johnson's biggest fight was against injuries. He redshirted his second season while recovering from knee surgery and hurt his shoulder in the first game last season.
Johnson returned to lead Utah to eight wins in its final nine games.
"Brian has a presence that not many people have," Utah left tackle Zane Beadles said. "When he comes into the huddle, he just has command of the offense. He's just the leader. There's nothing else to it."
Receiver Bradon Godfrey said the Utes benefit from Johnson being "like a nerd" in the film room, studying game tape.
"It helps when he gets out there," Godfrey said. "He controls the offense and that's why he's such a great leader on offense and that's why everybody respects him."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)