Alabama and Texas have racked up quite a few trophies during the past month. Both teams desperately want to add one more.
In a star-studded, powerhouse matchup of unbeaten teams, the top-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 2 Longhorns meet for the BCS championship at the Rose Bowl on Thursday night.
While fellow undefeated teams TCU, Cincinnati and Boise State may have felt slighted by being shut out of the title game, the BCS could not have delivered a more high-profile matchup. Coach Nick Saban’s Tide feature Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and six first-team All-Americans, while Mack Brown’s Longhorns rely on star quarterback Colt McCoy and an equally loaded roster.
Texas (13-0) is seeking its second BCS championship in five years. The Longhorns can win it in the same location where they stunned Southern California for the title during the 2005 season, winning 41-38 behind Vince Young in one of college football’s most compelling games.
Texas, though, faces a daunting task against Alabama (13-0), which dominated defending BCS champion Florida 32-13 in the SEC title game Dec. 5, snapping the then-No. 1 Gators’ 22-game winning streak.
For Alabama coach Nick Saban, his priority in the long run-up to the title game is putting that contest in the past and the hype aside.
“The field’s still going to be 50 yards wide and 100 yards deep and how they play in that game - I don’t care what award they won, or how many All-Americans we have - none of that stuff’s going to matter when the game starts,” said Saban, who has Alabama in the championship game in his third season with the program. “It’s going to be how we play. That’s what the players need to understand.
“Unless you have success in the next game, it doesn’t really matter. I can’t even name anybody that’s played in this game the last three years that didn’t have success.”
No Tide player had more success this season than Ingram, who rushed for a school-record 1,542 yards and 15 touchdowns. The sophomore ran for 113 yards and three scores against Florida to help him claim college football’s highest individual honor - the first Heisman for an Alabama player.
“This is a great, special moment for me but at the same time you’ve got to move forward,” Ingram said at the trophy presentation. “We still have a national championship game to play in.”
Ingram is hoping to lead Alabama to its first national title since 1992.
While the Tide try to pound Texas into submission with a ground game that ranks 12th nationally with 215.8 yards per game, their focus on defense will be McCoy.
The senior, who returned to school this year with hopes of winning a national championship, threw for 3,512 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 70.5 percent of his passes. The Maxwell Award winner as the nation’s best all-around player, who also won the Walter Camp player of the year award, McCoy directs a passing attack that was tied for 14th in the nation with 279.7 yards a game.
McCoy’s top target is receiver Jordan Shipley, who had 106 catches for 1,363 yards and 11 scores, though Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll and Dan Butler all contributed at least 445 yards receiving.
McCoy also was Texas’ second-leading rusher with 348 yards behind Tre’ Newton (513), and Cody Johnson rushed for 12 touchdowns. The Longhorns’ deep and versatile attack, though, should get its stiffest test of the season from an imposing Alabama defense.
Paced by Butkus Award winner Rolando McClain, the Tide were No. 1 in the country in scoring defense at 11.0 points per game and second in total defense at 241.8 yards a contest. McClain piled up a team-high 101 tackles - 12 1/2 for a loss - along with four sacks and two interceptions.
Alabama boasts a formidable secondary, led by Javier Arenas (12 tackles for loss, five sacks) and Mark Barron (seven interceptions). Sophomore defensive end Marcell Dareus recorded a team-high 6 1/2 of the Tide’s 31 sacks.
Defense isn’t exactly a weak spot for the Longhorns, either. They ranked first in the country with 62.9 rushing yards allowed per contest and third with 251.8 yards given up per game.
That could put pressure on Alabama’s efficient quarterback, Greg McElroy, to come up with a big performance. The junior, who passed for 2,450 yards with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions, faces a Texas team allowing 188.9 yards per game through the air - 23rd in the nation.
McElroy went 12 of 18 for 239 yards with one TD and no interceptions against Florida. His ability to avoid picks, however, will be tested by the opportunistic Texas defense.
The Longhorns topped the Football Bowl Subdivision with 24 interceptions, led by junior Earl Thomas with eight - tied for second in the country - and fellow safety Blake Gideon with five. Texas forced those INTs in part because of a pass rush that racked up 41 sacks, paced by Sam Acho (nine) and Lamarr Houston (seven).
The Longhorns, of course, barely made it to Pasadena, narrowly avoiding an upset by Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game with a 13-12 victory Dec. 5. Hunter Lawrence kicked a 46-yard field goal as time expired after McCoy and Texas nearly allowed the clock to run out on an incomplete pass on the previous play.
A replay confirmed time remained for Lawrence’s field-goal try, as the Longhorns came within a second of being denied a shot at the title game for the second straight year by a single play.
A 2008 loss to Texas Tech, coming on an improbable touchdown pass with 1 second left, likely kept the Longhorns from playing for the championship.
“To be able to overcome a game like that, with the ups and the downs and not very many things go your way and you still find a way to win, I think that really boosts your team,” McCoy, a first-team All-America selection who has guided Texas to 45 victories, told the team’s official Web site after the win over Nebraska.
“You know, we’re excited. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be in this championship game.”
Texas did not handle Nebraska’s fierce pass rush well, allowing McCoy to be sacked nine times, and Brown hinted at lineup changes after what he saw as a team-wide subpar performance against the Cornhuskers - especially with Alabama’s formidable pass rush up next.
“What we’re doing is we’re going back and being really, really hard on the guys,” Brown said. “We’re having a lot of tough, physical drills and we’re changing the depth chart daily.”
Alabama has played in an NCAA-record 57 bowl games and is tied with USC for the most wins with 31. Texas has the second-most bowl appearances with 49.
The Longhorns have dominated the Tide in eight meetings, going 7-0-1. The last matchup came in the 1982 Cotton Bowl, a 14-12 Texas win.
“This is not about who had the best season. This isn’t even about the history. This isn’t even about who has the best team. It’s about whose going to play the best for 3 1/2 hours,” Brown said. “That’s what I learned in 2005. The rest of it’s going to be chatter. It’s going to be who plays the best for 3 1/2 hours.”