Alabama is coming off its best victory of the season. Texas is coming off its worst.
Mark Ingram will be battling the Heisman Trophy jinx in national championship games, and Alabama will be trying to claim the fourth-straight BCS national title by an SEC team. The last non-SEC team to win the title: Texas.
Those are just a few of the subplots in Thursday's Citi BCS National Championship Game. Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin and SEC blogger Chris Low take a look at the matchup and other factors that will play into it.
Tim Griffin: Chris. I saw Alabama in the SEC title game and was very impressed with the way they jumped on Florida quickly and put the Gators behind from early in the game. Do you think Greg McElroy can have a mammoth performance against a strong defense in back-to-back games?
Chris Low: Tim, it's ironic that you would ask about McElroy, because everybody was asking about him back in the spring. Nobody really knew anything about him, whether he could handle the quarterback position or whether he would even finish the season as the starter. I think it's safe to say that he's far surpassed anybody's expectations. He's such a smart player, knows the Alabama offense inside and out and rarely makes the same mistake twice. After all, he's only thrown four interceptions in 13 games. I've seen halves against SEC defenses in which quarterbacks have thrown three or four picks. But McElroy is not just a caretaker of the offense. He'll spread the ball around. He throws a nice deep ball, and is better at moving around and making plays than he's given credit for. In short, if the Alabama offensive line plays the way it did against Florida, I look for McElroy to have another solid game. That's the thing about this Alabama offense. They don't need him to put up mammoth numbers to win. My question to you, Tim, is whether Colt McCoy is going to be running for his life against Alabama like he was against Nebraska a month ago?
TG: If he does, Texas has absolutely no chance. But I think the fact that observers have been questioning Texas' offense for nearly five weeks after the Longhorns allowed nine sacks against Nebraska should serve as a motivational ploy. I look for Texas to try and dictate tempo early. Look for McCoy to try to use the Longhorns' one-minute offense, in which there would be little time between plays as they try to keep them out of their comfort zone. The Longhorns have struggled with their pass blocking all season. Look for freshman Tre Newton to get more time because of his pass-blocking skills. And I would also expect Texas to use tight end Greg Smith more than usual to have an extra blocker. In the Big 12, the Longhorns liked to run a lot of three- and four-wide receiver sets. I think they'll need the extra beef tonight. Chris, speaking of beef, how do you think Alabama's big offensive line will play against Texas' fast and quick defense. The Longhorns led the nation in rush defense, but faced four teams with defenses ranked 100th or worst. Does Alabama feel like they can exploit a Texas defense that is good, but hasn't played many good rushing attacks?
CL: Honestly, I think Alabama thinks it can exploit any defense. This Alabama offensive line isn't as big as the one last year and has relied more on quickness and angles than just lining up and mashing people. Alabama will certainly look to run the football and won't be afraid to use both Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. It seems like the Crimson Tide always have a fresh back in the game. Against Florida, Alabama was able to throw it some and spread the Gators out. But that was just one game. We also saw Alabama struggle to run the ball against Auburn in the last game of the regular season, and McElroy had to bring them from behind throwing the football. Even in that game, after getting down 14-0, the Crimson Tide didn't panic and didn't get out of character offensively. What do you make of McCoy having two of his worst games against the two best defenses he's faced this season -- Nebraska and Oklahoma?
TG: Chris, interestingly those were also the games where he most faced consistent pressure from blitzes and had more trouble with interceptions. If Alabama can keep him from getting comfortable in the pocket and knock him around some, he could face a similar fate. The Texas offensive front isn't a great line -- by its standards or anybody else's. It's their biggest weakness, but really didn't impact them over the course of the season. The Longhorns had too many weapons and scored touchdowns in other ways to beat all the Big 12 teams they played.
When they played Oklahoma, they were facing a green quarterback in Landry Jones after Sam Bradford's injury earlier in the game. And against Nebraska, they were able to neutralize the Cornhuskers' big defensive effort because Nebraska's offense played so poorly. Chris, I think that Texas is going to have to get some cheap points -- say from a long kick or punt return or a turnover to have a chance. Is there anything you've seen that shows Alabama has got its special teams under control enough to withstand the pressure that D.J. Monroe, Marquise Goodwin and Jordan Shipley will place on the Tide?
CL: Alabama has not been very good on kickoff coverage. That's a given. So it wouldn't be a shock to see the Crimson Tide give up some long returns or even a touchdown. Short fields could be critical in this game, because neither defense has allowed teams to consistently put together long drives. The problem with exploiting Alabama on special teams is that the Crimson Tide have one of the best punt returners in the country in Javier Arenas and a field goal kicker in All-American Leigh Tiffin who's made a bunch of big kicks and also has great range. In short, unless Alabama uncharacteristically turns the ball over and/or is forced to play from behind the whole game, I think the Crimson Tide take home the crystal trophy and complete a perfect season. Alabama 27, Texas 17
TG: I think Texas is going to have trouble stopping the run defense. But if they can get some early momentum, I like their chances of taking this game into the fourth quarter. But at that point, Alabama will have too much power and gradually wear the Longhorns down, likely with a late drive like the one Florida put Oklahoma away with last season. Alabama 24, Texas 13