Newport Beach, Calif.—Folks, you know how much I love Atlanta but it was nice to wake up this morning in one of the few places in the United States where it is warm. I understand we have some nasty weather coming in to the ATL.
Tonight in almost perfect conditions No. 1 Alabama (13-0), the SEC champ, and No. 2 Texas (13-0), the Big 12 champ, will square off at the Rose Bowl for the BCS national title. I’ll be getting to the stadium pretty early today. I’ll file a new blog before the game and will then share some thoughts during the game. So if you’re watching tonight jump online. It should be fun.
Since this matchup was set on Dec. 6 it has been broken down in every conceivable fashion. But here are Five Burning Questions I have before the kickoff comes just after 8 p.m.
1. Can the SEC keep its streaks going? There are two big ones on the line tonight. A win would give the SEC its fourth straight BCS national championship. Florida won it in 2006 and 2008 while LSU took home the title in 2007. Because LSU won in 2003, a victory tonight would give the SEC five of the last seven national championships.
The SEC also holds the distinction of having never lost a BCS championship game. In addition to the four winners mentioned above, Tennessee beat Florida State in 1998.
2. Can Texas block the Alabama defense? In the Big 12 championship game Nebraska gave Texas fits because the Cornhuskers applied pressure up the middle with Ndamukong Suh and used their fleet linebackers to fill Colt McCoy’s running lanes. Texas is much more effective when McCoy can run the ball, which he did well in the second half of the season. With over a month to prepare, and with a defense that is faster than Nebraska’s, Alabama head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will come up with a few things that McCoy has not seen on the film. I’m just not convinced the Texas offensive line can block Alabama on a consistent basis.
3. Seven Heisman Trophy winners have played in the BCS championship game. Six of them have lost. Will Alabama’s Mark Ingram be the exception or the rule? The matchup of Alabama’s offensive line and Texas’s defensive line will be a war. Alabama’s offensive line has jelled beyond anybody’s expectations. In the preseason the O-line was a question mark and it ended the season as a strength. Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has done an incredible job rebuilding this defensive line as the Longhorns lead the nation in rushing defense (62 ypg). But I don’t think Texas has seen an offensive line as good as Alabama’s. I believe Ingram will go north of 100 yards.
4. So what is Texas’s best shot to win this game? The Longhorns are the nation’s No. 2 team when it comes to forcing turnovers with 35. If Texas can turn Alabama mistakes into points then the Longhorns have a good chance to win. But Alabama doesn’t turn the ball over very much. Two key stats here: Ingram has 492 career carries in two seasons and has lost just one fumble, that coming in the final minutes against Tennessee. Quarterback Greg McElroy has thrown 314 passes this season and has only four interceptions. Alabama just doesn’t make that many mistakes. I think the key here is McElroy, who enters this game with a 29-0 record as a starting quarterback dating back to his senior season in high school. McElroy doesn’t have to have a GOOD game. He just needs to avoid a BAD game. If McElroy does not play poorly, Alabama wins.
5. So what is the X-Factor? Without a doubt it is special teams. This game features two the nation’s best punt returners in Javier Arenas of Alabama and Jordan Shipley of Texas. Arenas, who averaged 16.3 yards per return, is a threat to go the distance each time he touches the ball. Shipley has returned three punts for touchdowns this season. If it comes down to a field goal, both teams have guys who can deliver in the clutch. Hunter Lawrence of Texas made a 46-yard field goal on the last play to give Texas a 13-12 win over Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game. Lawrence has made 20 of 23 field goals this season. Alabama’s Leigh Tiffin made 29 of 33 field goals, including 5 of 7 between 40-49 yards. If this game is close, expect a big play in the kicking game to decide it.
FINAL ANALYSIS: If the Alabama team that destroyed No. 1 Florida in the SEC championship game shows up tonight in Pasadena, I think the Crimson Tide wins by double digits. Alabama is just too solid and the defense is certainly the Crimson Tide’s best since the 1992 national championship unit. But I also thought that the 2005 Texas team was overmatched by No. 1 USC in a game what was also played in the Rose Bowl. You never know how a long layoff will affect a team and you have to wonder if Alabama played its best game against Florida on Dec. 5. Colt McCoy could have one of those Vince Young moments and fool me. Keep this in mind. Since No. 1 USC beat No. 2 Oklahoma in 2004, the No. 2 team has won four straight BCS championship games. Could No. 2 do it again? I don’t think so.
FINAL SCORE: ALABAMA 24, TEXAS 13.
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