Pickup sticks. Dynamite fishing. "Modern Warfare 2". Tackle football. One of these fine means of arbitration will determine college football's unsanctioned, quasi-unofficial, and historically open to great scrutiny "national championship" tonight. Honoring Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass and the T.C. Williams' Titans great fashionsense will be the Alabama Crimson Tide (words chosen very carefully as to not undermine in anyway the professionalism of these 80 some odd mercenaries), and repping the "White Helmets of Surrender (c)" will be the Longhorns of the University of Texas. The broadcast goes live at 8:00 p.m. EST on ABC, with the Norse god of mischief Brent Musburger behind the mic and our very own Kirk Herbstreit providing analysis.
Our final Weekend Update/Bowl Preview takes a minor detour, as but one game remains in the proverbial playlist for the 2009/10 Season. As with all final slow songs in the jukebox (or the final drink at last call for those who's proclivity for the sauce makes metaphors inaccessible without it), it's critical to consider all factors involved to be sure the deicision you're about to make will be a lasting one. Behold, your potential dance partners:
#2. Texas - Big 12 Champions (13-0, 8-0)
The Longhorn's rallying cry for this one is "Live the Dream... Again", an addendum to the team's official '05 mantra bestowed upon them by none other than former Marshall head coach (and Austinite) Matthew McConaughey. In fact, Longhorn faithful will be quick to point out the many situational parallels between the 2006 Rose Bowl and the 2010 BCS Championship Game as reasons giving them confidence that this outcome will play out the same way.
Both games will have taken place in the storied Rose Bowl (not like we're at all familiar with that stadium or anything), both opponents had Heisman trophy winning tailbacks, both Longhorn teams had one of the two best quarterbacks in school history, and both times Texas will have been the consensus underdogs. Being perfectly real about the whole situation, the Horns aren't playing in the Rose Bowl game, but in an artificially created entity of its own design that happens to be played in the same stadium. Reggie Bush's Heisman was considerably less contentious than Mark Ingram's, and the snub factor for the Longhorn QB on the losing side of the ledger can't burn quite as deep with McCoy finishing 3rd to Vince Young's runner up. Credit where credit's due: Colt McCoy's 13,244 yards and 112 career TD deserve every bit the billing they've been getting. McCoy, pending a Troy Smith'ian bumble for the ages, is due to exit tomorrow's contest as the NCAA's all team completion percentage leader -- this in spite of "failing" to measure up last season's previously unheard of 76.7% record setting mark and 173.75 unheard of QB rating. The underdog factor rings true as well, though the Horns are just 4 point dogs in this year's title game, though in '06 they faced a 7.5 point projected deficit.
So what to look for in terms of this year's team? The Horns enter this one with the best rush defense in the country, allowing just 62.9 yards per game. Texas also brings the nation's third best total defense, allowing just 251.8 yards per agme. You know all the skill position guys (DID YA HEAR MCCOY AND SHIPLEY WERE ROOMMATES?!?!), but keep an eye on the effectiveness of the 'Horns two-headed running back attack of Tre' Newton (son of former lineman/coke empresario Nate) and Cody Johnson. If the Horns can find a way to establish the run, Alabama's excellent secondary will have to play closer to the line of scrimmage which could open up the expected to be narrow passing lanes for Shipley, et al. On the flip side, safety Earl Thomas was one of the best defenders in 2009, recording 8 INTs on the season. Another stat worth keeping in mind is that Texas also led the nation in non-offensive touchdowns with 11.
#1. Alabama - SEC Champions (13-0, 8-0)
ALA-BA-MA-MAN!! HE CAN BOWL, HE CAN DRINK, HE CAN DRINK SOME MORE, ALA-BA-MA-MAN! The proprietors of the best body of work in 2009, Nick Saban's Crimson Tide play for their first national title in 17 years (GEORGE TEAGUE == STRIP). Right on queue, the Tide faithful have spilt(?) their Crimson Tide all over Los Angeles, with dark red t-shirts by the boatload being reported all over touristy local area spots today.
Speaking of parallels, Alabama finds themself in a situation not unlike the past two SEC champions, Florida and LSU, who entered their respective BCS Championship Games as slight Vegas but overall large sentimental favorites. Much like the '08 Gators, Alabama enters this one with the nation's statistically best defense. Since even many-worlds theorists have been unable to find alternate universes where by which Tim Tebow is not heralded, 'Bama QB Greg McElroy's situation does share some similar qualities to LSU's Matt Flynn. Neither were particularly respected going into their BCS title games, though both's resume would seem to suggest they deserve otherwise. Greg McElroy competed 61% of his passes this season for 2450 yards, 17 TDs, and just 4 INTs. Flynn's completion percentage and INTs didn't carry the same kind of luster (just 56.3% and 11 respectively), but both QBs found ways to win close games (and a lot of games period) in spite of their critics. All of the last 3 SEC Champions entered their BCS title games with dynamic, explosive lines, and Bama's is no exception. While world eater Terrence Cody gets all the attention (particularly in lieu of how flustered Texas was by Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy and Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh), sophomore defensive end Marcell Dareus actually led the team with 6 1/2 sacks. Much like Florida (and to a degree LSU), Alabama enters this one with an elite secondary. True sophomore strong safety Mark Barron finished the season with 7 INTs of his own, while all-SEC corner Javier Arenas recorded 12 tackles for a loss, and an insane 5 sacks from the corner position. Arenas will also be a huge threat to the Horns, as the senior has 7 punt returns for touchdowns in his career.
So what else bears keeping an eye on for the Tide? One thing unique about 'Bama's run is the presence of a legitimate future top 10 NFL draft worthy #1 receiver in Julio Jones. The sophomore fell off some folks' radar after a "slump" of 573 yards and 4 TDs. None the less, #8 will command a double team almost the entire evening. Besides the Heisman winner, keep an eye on freshman Trent Richardson. Richardson rushed for 642 yards and 6 TDs on the seaosn, and many 'Bama faithful feel he ultimately may turn out to be the better of the two. If both backs inexplicably get in a rhythm, this thing could get ugly. Marquis Maze is another formidable target for McElroy, catching 30 balls ofr 519 yards and a pair of TDs on the year from the slot. 'Bama also unquestionably wins the tight end battle between the two schools, with the versatile pass catching 255 pound 6'6" Colin Peek.
So what say the football powers that be around yonder as far as a winner goes? Alabama is a 4 point favorite with good reason. Can Texas win? Absolutely. The principle difference being the Horn's margin of error will be considerably less than the Tide. Coming off a shocking upset loss to Utah in last year's Sugar Bowl, it'd be difficult to see Alabama coming out flat in the least. If there's a silver lining for the 'Horns, it's that Nick Saban is just 4-6 in bowl games for his career (effectively killing the "if you give this guy 3+ weeks" meme) That being said, if it's your kid's scholarship fund vs. rooting against the SEC, put down the phone/mouse. You've got some real serious issues... (psst: go Bama -4).