Here are a handful of things Texas needs to do to beat Alabama and win its first national championship since 2005.
1. Put it on the line. Texas gained just 202 yards of offense in last month's 13-12 victory over Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game. Even worse was that quarterback Colt McCoy was sacked nine times. Texas realizes that Alabama's defense is every bit as good as the one they faced against the Cornhuskers. The Longhorns could be in trouble if linemen such as Chris Hall and Adam Ulatoski don't do a better job of protecting McCoy and giving him time to throw.
2. On the Mark. Texas leads the nation in rush defense. Opponents are averaging just 62.15 yards per game on the ground against the Longhorns. Still, Texas hasn't seen anything close to the type of power running game it will face against Alabama and Heisman winner Mark Ingram, who averages 118 yards per game. Players such as defensive end Sergio Kindle, tackle Lamarr Houston, linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy and defensive Earl Thomas need to set the tone early by limiting Ingram's yards and forcing the Crimson Tide to go to the air.
3. Do something special. A lot of people talk about Alabama's solid play on special teams, but Texas isn't too shabby, either. Doesn't anyone remember the game-winning, 46-yard field goal by the most accurate kicker in Texas history (Hunter Lawrence)? Or the two touchdowns scored by lightning rod Jordan Shipley on punt returns? These guys are salty. The biggest key on special teams, though, will be whether the Longhorns' linemen can keep the Crimson Tide from blocking kicks. In what could easily be a low-scoring, grind-it-out game, the team that performs the best on special teams could emerge as the victor.
4. Know your role. McCoy and Shipley are two of the best at their respective positions, but otherwise, this isn't a Texas team that’s loaded with big-time playmakers. That’s why a role player will almost certainly have to step up and make a big play Thursday for the Longhorns to win. Maybe it's receiver Malcolm Williams, who has a knack for playing well in big games. Perhaps tailback Tre Newton will break loose for a 50-60-yard, game-changing run. Or maybe a backup linebacker will forced a fumble or come up with an interception. Someone other than just McCoy and Shipley needs to come through, because the twosome can't win this game by itself.
5. Chips ahoy. Texas enters this game with plenty of reason to have a chip on its shoulder. Heck, they've been playing that way all year. As if being cheated out of an appearance in last season's BCS title game wasn't motivation enough, the Longhorns have had to listen all week as folks referred to Alabama as the "heavy favorite." Others have said this matchup is "David vs. Goliath." Talk about disrespectful. Texas has lost one game over the past two seasons while competing in one of the toughest leagues in the country. All these jabs about its mediocrity should drive Mack Brown's squad.