Colt McCoy, return game can lead underdog Texas past Alabama
In championship games, great players like Colt McCoy make the difference
Alabama doesn't have many weaknesses, but covering kickoffs is a small one
The last three times we've had a heavy title-game underdog, that team has won
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Save your e-mails, Alabama fans. Like you, I think Alabama is the better team in the BCS title game. But since this is only one game and not a seven-game series, that doesn't mean the Crimson Tide are guaranteed a victory. In fact, the teams are close enough that in a one-game scenario, Texas has an almost equal chance of hoisting the crystal football at the Rose Bowl.
Remember, these teams played games before Dec. 5. Alabama played a perfect game against Florida, and Texas played a perfectly awful game against Nebraska, but one weekend does not a season make. The Tide looked unbeatable at times, but Tennessee and Auburn took them to the wire. The Longhorns looked vulnerable at times, but they also won seven games by four touchdowns or more.
So the winner will depend on which version of each team shows up in Pasadena. These five reasons suggest that if the correct Texas team takes the field, the Longhorns can win their second national title in five seasons.
1. Take it away, Earl. With one game to play, Texas is tied with Ohio State for second in the nation with 35 takeaways (24 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries). The Longhorns' defense can wrench momentum from an opponent with an Earl Thomas interception or a Sergio Kindle strip. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp made turnovers a point of emphasis this season, and the Longhorns have forced 19 more than they did in 13 games in 2008.
"Coach Muschamp has really emphasized forcing turnovers and how those change games, so we focus in practice and in games on trying to get at least three turnovers every single practice, every single game," defensive end Sam Acho said. "It's really a testament to coach Muschamp as far as what he does emphasizing it and coaching forcing turnovers."
2. The return game. Alabama doesn't have many weaknesses, but the Crimson Tide have had trouble covering kickoffs at times this season. Alabama has allowed an average return of 25.7 yards, and two opponents ran kicks back for touchdowns. That could be good news for Texas, which has two kickoff returners who have taken one to the house this season.
Speedster D.J. Monroe averages 35.7 yards per return and has scored twice, but Monroe missed the past three games after an embarrassing arrest on a DWI charge. If Monroe doesn't start, freshman receiver Marquise Goodwin will get the nod. Goodwin averages 22.1 yards a return, and he took a kick 95 yards for a touchdown against Texas A&M.
3. Underdog. Las Vegas only has the Longhorns as a four-point underdog, but popular sentiment is that Alabama will steamroll Texas. That could work in the Longhorns' favor. The last three times one BCS title game participant has been considered head-and-shoulders better than its opponent, the underdog has won. Ohio State shocked Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Vince Young and Texas -- with seven redshirting players who are now seniors on this team -- stunned USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl. The following year, heavy underdog Florida whipped Ohio State.
Texas coach Mack Brown told a story Wednesday about that 2006 Rose Bowl. Before kickoff, he stood at midfield surveying the Trojans. Brown turned to offensive coordinator Greg Davis and said, "My gosh, they've got a great-looking football team. Look at those guys." Davis patted Brown on the shoulder and said, "Well, turn around. Yours look pretty good, too."
4. Pressure, pressure, pressure. Note that I have yet to mention Texas fields the nation's No. 1 run defense. That's because most of the teams on the Longhorns' schedule stink at running the football. Alabama does not. Tide backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson will gain their share of yards, but Alabama will have to throw to keep Texas from loading the box. That's where Muschamp's defense -- which he learned from Alabama coach Nick Saban -- can mess with Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy's mind.
McElroy played brilliantly in wins over Auburn and Florida, but he made some shaky decisions in other games. LSU, with its disguised blitzes and freak athletes, gave McElroy fits. Muschamp has a stable of freak athletes himself, and he loves to disguise blitzes. The head freak is Kindle, a 6-4, 255-pounder who mixes speed and power better than any rusher Alabama's line has seen all season.
5. Two words. Colt McCoy. In championship games, great players make the difference. 'Bama has Heisman Trophy-winning back Ingram and all-everything linebacker Rolando McClain. Texas has McCoy, who can take over a game with his arm or his legs.
McCoy has had a stellar career. He's the winningest quarterback in FBS history, but he has always lived in the shadow of fellow quarterbacks Tim Tebow (Florida) and Sam Bradford (Oklahoma). Last year, Bradford beat McCoy for the Heisman, and Tebow walked away with the national title. That has to inspire McCoy. So too must the results of this year's Heisman balloting. McCoy was a finalist, but Alabama's Ingram won. McCoy, who redshirted in 2005, certainly remembers that a quarterback who didn't win the Heisman (Young) led his team against a team led by a running back who did win the Heisman (Reggie Bush).
If McCoy can, like Young, finish his career with zero Heisman Trophies and one national title, he'll take it. "You want to play for the national championship," McCoy said. "That was our goal. That was our dream. Now we're realizing that our dream could actually be a reality. It's starting to set in a little bit, and obviously going into this game and playing well and coming out on top would cap it off the right way."
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