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BOWL PREVIEW PART VIII: BCS TITLE GAME
January 6, 2010

SCS.com BCS National Championship
Texas vs. Alabama
1/7

It's been a long road to the championship, but we have a mega-matchup as the Longhorns and the Crimson Tide converge on Pasadena. The Longhorns really started this road last year as they were snubbed in favor of an Oklahoma team they beat in the regular season for the national title game, and they responded with a come-from-behind victory in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Colt McCoy and company came into this season determined to prove they should have played Florida last year, and things started easy with 4 blowout wins and a convincing ten point win against Texas Tech. Then came the battle with Oklahoma, which Texas won despite playing very terrible thanks in large part to Sam Bradford's injury. However, Texas escaped which was all that mattered. No game for the rest of the season ended up close until the Big XII Championship, where Nebraska came in as a huge underdog. However, the country had underestimated the Cornhuskers defense and Nebraska thought they had won the game when the officials put one second back on the clock and allowed Texas to kick a game-winning field goal. So while TCU, Cincinnati, and Boise State groaned collectively, Texas escaped and has completed the long journey back to the national championship.

One might say this journey also started last year for Alabama as well, but not with a win. Alabama was the only undefeated major-conference team in the country last year going into the SEC Championship and the Crimson Tide held a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter against the Gators. Then it all fell apart as Tim Tebow crushed Alabama's dream season and the Sugar Bowl showed a very unmotivated Crimson Tide losing to undefeated Utah. However, Alabama circled the wagons and pointed to this year's SEC championship, vowing to take their best shot at Tebow and the Gators. The season started with a bang with a neutral-site win over Virginia Tech, and no real tests emerged until a late October home game against Tennessee. Much like Texas, Alabama had their championship-saving moment when the Crimson Tide needed to block two field goals to survive with a two-point win. Alabama also struggled against their rival Auburn, but both of these games were simply lead ups to the showdowns against LSU and Florida. Each of which Alabama handled without much fanfare, disposing of LSU by 9 and dismantling the Gators by 19. So Alabama has accomplished what they set out to do, but you know they understand it's been a long time since the Crimson Tide has won a national championship and these opportunities do not come along often.

Getting to the battle on the field, a solid Texas offense must overcome a very stingy Alabama defense if the Longhorns are to win this game. QB Colt McCoy returned vowing to lead the Longhorns to another title in Pasadena like four years ago, and he has lived up to the hype more than the two men who beat him for the past two Heisman trophies (Bradford and Tebow). McCoy thre for over 3500 yards and added another 400 on the ground. McCoy has been able to avoid a lot of sacks with his mobility, but the offensive line did have some issues at times this season. McCoy will target WR Jordan Shipley most of the time, but he has 5 other receivers he can throw to confidently. also look for RB Tre Newton to take some pressure off McCoy by keeping the Crimson Tide defense honest. The Crimson Tide defense is matched only by TCU as the best in the country, led by a tremendous backfield. LB Ronaldo McClain is just as likely to sack a quarterback as he is to read the eyes and intercept a ball, while Javier Arenas and Mark Barron are shut-down defenders in the secondary. This poses a great challenge to McCoy, who struggled mightily against the only other two teams with a defense in the same ballpark as Alabama, OU holding the Horns to 16 points and Nebraska holding them to 12. Even though Alabama looks like the perfect foil to the Texas offense, never count out McCoy in a big game just finding a way to win.

Once Alabama has the ball, the look will be a bit different despite also having a potent offense themselves. Instead of passing the ball a lot, the Crimson Tide are driven by their running game and especially Heisman-winner RB Mark Ingram. Ingram racked up 15 scores and 1500 yards despite having a couple very poor games in the SEC season. Alabama's offensive line is great in opening holes and also in pass protections, as Greg McElroy has had plenty of time to develop into a great quarterback this season. McElroy also has a host of receiving targets, led by Julio Jones. The Longhorns will not be awed by the Alabama offense though, as Texas was very strong against the run this season. The defensive front produced a great pass rush and 41 sacks, led by Sam Acho and Lamarr Houston. The defensive backfield benefitted from this pressure on opposing quarterbacks by picking off 24 balls. Each safety Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon will be watching McElroy like hawks and waiting to pounce on any mistake. The battle will come down to whether Texas can get a push on the great Alabama offensive line. If the Longhorns can, then Alabama could make the mistakes they made against Auburn and Tennessee.

Each team benefits from some great special teams play. The kickers match up very nicely as the Longhorns rely on Hunter Lawrence (22/25 on field goals) while Alabama puts faith in Leigh Tiffin (29/33 this year). Texas relies equally in punting on sophomore Justin Tucker and junior John Gold. Meanwhile, P.J. Fitzgerald is one of the best punters in the country for Alabama, netting over 42 yards per punt. There's no clear winner, although one would expect Fitzgerald to give Alabama slightly better field position if the game turns into a defensive slugfest. However, both placekickers are absolutely clutch when they need to be, which is all that matters in a game like this.

Urban Meyer became the first coach in the BCS era to win a second championship last season, and either Mack Brown or Nick Saban will join him at the top of the list following this game. While other coaches like Pete Carroll and Jim Tressel may get more attention, both Brown and Saban have done what they do best and that is build championship programs. Before Vince Young came along, Texas was always playing second-fiddle to Oklahoma, but now Brown seems to be king of the Big XII with a balanced offense and a strong defense. Meanwhile, Saban builds winners like they do int the north with a strong running game and a killer defense. This is almost a carbon copy of the LSU team which Saban led to the championship in 2004, but Mack Brown also has to like the comparisons between Colt McCoy and Vince Young. Pasadena is hallowed ground for Texas and will become legendary for them is they win both their national titles on that Rose Bowl turf. Neither coach will shirk from the battle, but Saban seems to be just a bit better in big games.

As previously mentioned, Texas has owned the Rose Bowl with two wins and a national championship on this field in the last 5 years. However, both games were instant classics and this one would likely fit the bill if the Longhorns can upset the Crimson Tide. Unlike some seasons where one team rolls all year while another survives many scares, each of these teams is truly battle tested. Alabama has definitely showed up for their biggest games, and it is hard to believe they will not arrive like last year's Sugar Bowl. However, Texas has been dominant in bowl games the past five years, always finding a way to win. No extra motivation is needed, but Alabama certainly may have a bit more to overcome the Heisman jinx and to represent the SEC well with a fourth-straight national championship. The intangibles slightly favor Alabama.

So how will it all come down to pass in Pasadena? This is probably the best match up we've seen since Texas-USC four years ago, so this whole BCS thing is working out for the Rose Bowl (nabbing a great traditional game between Oregon and OSU also helps). Both teams will likely have some struggles given the defensive strength, which means Alabama should be able to squeak out a little bit of field position war to win the battle. However, Texas will jump on any mistake and needs to be put away by more than 7 points in the fourth quarter, as McCoy will lead this team to victory otherwise. Look for Texas to break a couple big plays early, but the Alabama will shut down the Longhorn offense and grind out 3 or 4 unanswered scoring drives to take the lead. Then Alabama will bleed the clock and keep McCoy off the field in the crucial back half of the fourth quarter, leading to a 6 point victory for the Crimson Tide and their first championship since 1993.

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