Inside Texas Title Game Picks

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By IT Staff
Posted Jan 6, 2010
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IT's Bill Frisbie, Ross Lucksinger, Mike Blackwell, Jeff Howe, Michael Pearle and Clendon Ross give you their picks, and their reasoning for the picks, for Thursday's National Championship match-up between Texas and Alabama in Pasadena, Calif.

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Bill Frisbie, Lead Writer – Alabama is the most complete team Texas has faced since October 11, 2008.  That’s when Texas upset No. 1 Oklahoma which, incidentally, was the last time the Horns entered a contest as an underdog.  Tide coach Nick Saban continues to publicly reject the David-Goliath motif assigned to his team’s favored status.  He’s smart enough to know this has a galvanizing effect on a program with Texas’ talent, pride and tradition.

On paper, though, it’s difficult to find the weak link in Saban’s squad. My bias leans toward the team that can effectively run downhill and, according to Heisman voters, nobody does that better than Trophy winner Mark Ingram.  Texas, of course, brings the nation’s No. 1 run defense to the table.  Texas’ run defense versus Alabama’s rushing offense may be push.

Colt McCoy indirectly challenged his offensive linemen when he told media that this game would be won up front. I think this game will be won behind center. Texas wins if McCoy can establish a vertical passing threat, establish play-action and runs the ball like he did against Oklahoma.

But there’s one intangible that bodes well for McCoy:  he not only has won a BCS bowl game but has orchestrated three of the five Longhorn games that were literally won on the last second.  Meanwhile Alabama QB Greg McElroy, by his own admission, has never faced adversity.

Adversity, thy name is Sergio Kindle.

On paper, Alabama wins by at least seven points.  But that’s why they play this caliber of game on imported grass that costs six figures.  This is college football’s biggest stage, and Alabama has been priming for it since upending Florida 32 days ago.  It’s just that Texas has been preparing since its last-second loss at Texas Tech 14 months ago. The Horns have an even-keeled, sense of destiny about them -- despite the bumps in the road.

By the way, I’m the only person in America who correctly picked the score of Texas’ upset of USC four years ago.  Somewhere on the Sunset Strip is a bar that owes me a $500 tab for winning its Pick’em contest.  I would trade my prize to be correct once again.

Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! Keep hope alive! Texas 20, Alabama 16.

Ross Lucksinger, Inside Texas Editor – Sometimes football is a zero-sum game.  If the answer to one question is a 'yes' or a 'no' it makes all the difference in the outcome.

For example, any time the 2009 Oklahoma Sooners faced an opponent, the question was, "Can this opponent effectively rush the passer?"

If the answer was 'yes', then the Sooners would lose in spectacular fashion, with their offensive line and its sub-par ability this season getting sliced and Landry Jones having no opportunity to make a play (See: BYU, Miami, Texas, Nebraska).  If the answer was 'no', then Jones would have the time he needs to get the ball to his athletes and the result would be a blowout (See: Baylor, Kansas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State).

In the 2010 BCS National Championship game between Texas and Alabama there are several questions for which the answer needs to be 'yes' for that team to win.  For Texas, the biggest is "Can the offensive line give Colt McCoy the time he needs?".  For Alabama, it's "Can Greg McElroy complete a drive on his own?"

That last one is important because McElroy will have to complete a drive on his own.  The Texas Longhorns are coming into this game with the best run defense in the nation and, despite what you may have heard about the SEC, will be the best run defense Alabama has faced all season.

Yes, Mark Ingram is the Heisman Trophy winner and yes the Alabama offensive line has shown marked improvement throughout the season, but the Crimson Tide will not be able to just 'ground and pound' and waltz to a victory.  He'll get some yards, he may break off a big run, but there will come a time in this game where he's getting stuffed and McElroy will have to make a play to win the game.

But what if the answer to the offensive questions for both teams is 'no'?

What if McCoy is getting hounded but McElroy and Ingram are unable to take advantage?

At that point it will be up to defense and special teams to make a play and Texas is built for just that, leading the nation with 11 non-offensive touchdowns.

...But so is Alabama.  Do not forget that the Tide actually has a better turnover margin this season than Texas (+1.23 to to +0.92 per game) and Alabama is in the top ten in both kick and punt returns.

Either team can take advantage of a mistake and unfortunately Texas is more likely to make that mistake on offense.

I'm basing my pick on the idea that this will be a grinding, defensive-based battle; the only surprising outcome to me would be a blowout in either direction.  It doesn't matter if Alabama or Texas is the "better team".  In a game like that, who makes that play that takes advantage of a mistake will turn the game in their favor.

That's based only on percentages.  Could Texas win this game?  Absolutely.  But Alabama's put itself in a slightly better position to win that kind of game and has a slightly higher percentage chance of making that play.  Alabama 17, Texas 13

Mike Blackwell, Inside Texas Magazine Editor – Our flag football team this season, made up of about a dozen six-year-old boys in the San Marcos area, went undefeated and won the league championship. As the head coach and quarterback, I was told before the season that score would not be kept, and that everyone would get the same trophy at the end of the year.

I kept score.

At any rate, our team, the Colts, had a prodigy at running back named Moses (I’m not making this up). He scored literally 80 percent of the time he touched the football. This kid could stop on a dime, eat an orange slice, drain a juice bag and still nobody could catch him. You can insert your own “parting of the Red Sea” comment here. By the end of the season, I only gave it to him on fourth down, otherwise, no other kid on the team would ever get the football.

Near the end of the season my son, Miles, informed his coach/dad that he had a scheduling conflict. As a new kindergartener, he was now getting invitations to his classmates’ birthday parties. One of those parties conflicted with our upcoming football game, and Miles wanted to go where there was cake and ice cream.

I gave him my biggest “we need you” speech and implored him to go to the football game instead. He refused, and with his mother on his side, my case was lost. He could see I was at least slightly upset at his/their decision, but he cheered me up simply: “Daddy, don’t worry. We’ve got Moses.”

Which brings me to my pick in Thursday nights’ national championship game. Maybe I’m old school, or maybe I’m just a stubborn old fool, but I believe football games – from flag football to the Rose Bowl – are still won most often by the team that runs the football the best. And I think that has played out this season for Texas.

I hope I am wrong, but I believe Alabama’s superior running game will be the difference in the game. Additionally, I believe the Tide defense will be able to make enough of a dent in the Texas passing game with its pass rush to keep the Longhorns from going off in the passing game.

Alabama doesn’t have Moses. But it does have Mark Ingram. Alabama 27, Texas 17.

Jeff Howe, Inside Texas Recruiting Analyst – With the painfully long layoff between the Big 12 Championship Game and Thursday’s BCS title game, we have scrutinized, over-analyzed and turned over every stone for information as the Texas Longhorns prepare to face Alabama.

There are tons of stats to look at in this game but the one that keeps sticking out for me has to do with Mack Brown. The guy has done pretty darn well in bowl games lately.

Since a forgettable, sluggish showing against Washington State in the 2003 Holiday Bowl, Brown’s teams have not lost a bowl game and sport a perfect 3-0 record in BCS games.

Another thing to look at is while everyone is touting Nick Saban as the best coach in the country, look at the skins Brown has on the wall from bowl seasons past. Jackie Sherrill, Rick Neuheisel, Lloyd Carr, Pete Carroll, Kirk Ferentz, Dennis Erickson and Jim Tressel have all suffered January defeats to Brown and the Longhorns.

Oh, and that Saban guy has also been on the wrong side of a Texas win in a bowl game in the 2002 Cotton Bowl when he was the boss at LSU.

Listening to Brown throughout bowl preparations I have no doubt that this Texas team has a laser-sharp focus right now. While Saban is trying his best to remind his team not to fall victim to outside influences, Brown’s approach seems to be, “been there, done that.”

I like just about everything about this Texas team right now, but the one area that still concerns me is the offensive line. The hope is that group has tired of the conversation that they will be unable to stop Alabama’s front seven from tossing Colt McCoy around like a rag doll and is ready to step up and take charge.

Speaking of McCoy, that’s the matchup nobody is really talking about – the quarterbacks against the opposing defenses. McCoy has been there, done that himself and while I think McCoy will do just enough to make the plays necessary to win, I don’t have the same confidence that Alabama’s Greg McElroy will be able to do the same.

The only thing left for McCoy to accomplish is winning a national title and hopefully a title would not only validate him as one of the greatest players in the history of college football, but validate Brown with a Vince Young-less national title to silence the few doubters he has left. Texas 24, Alabama 20.

Michael Pearle, Co-Publisher – I guess it’s maybe the two heart attacks that I nearly suffered watching the Horns’ last two games that ultimately shook my confidence in this team’s ability to beat Alabama. Did Texas really give up 39 points against that crappy A&M team and need a kickoff return for a TD to win? Did they really give up nine sacks and muster all of 13 points against a Nebraska team that had lost to Iowa State? Most importantly, setting aside the last two games, did Texas ever really play a team this season that is anywhere close to the talent level of Alabama, so that we have some reason, other than intangibles, to think Texas is truly good enough, truly complete enough, to beat a Tide team that made No. 1 Florida look silly? I just don’t think so.

Look, I know Alabama had struggles of its own this year. I watched the Tide scrape by Auburn and I also saw Tennessee somehow lose to Bama by two in a game that should have ended the Tide’s run to Pasadena. They are not invincible. And they appear to be over-confident. But they showed against an elite team in the Gators that they have an offense that is truly balanced and a defense that can be suffocating. I do believe the Horn defense is superb, the A&M blip notwithstanding, but my gut just tells me that the Horns’ anemic offensive efforts against the two really good defenses they’ve faced this season, Nebraska and OU, are no coincidence. Texas can’t consistently run the football, and the Horns can’t consistently protect Colt McCoy. So I just can’t see the Texas offense having much success against a ‘Bama defense that Colt himself has said is the best he will have seen in his four years at Texas.

And unfortunately for the Horns, ‘Bama’s offense is considerably more dangerous than the offenses both OU and the Huskers threw at them. While Greg McElroy & Co. do not figure to light up the Horn D the way they lit up the Gators, I see them barely outscoring Texas in a grinding defensive battle.

Mack Brown has proven that he knows how to prepare his teams for the post-season; the Horns have won twice in this stadium under intense BCS pressure; Colt McCoy is the winningest QB in college football history; the Horns have something to prove to a nation that is giving them what seems like about a zero chance of a victory in this game; and they have Will Muschamp. So Texas will prove it belongs. They will punch Bama in the mouth and earn their respect, and will fight to the end in a game that will make us proud of the team’s grit. They’ll keep it close and will have a chance to win in the fourth quarter. If they do, it'll come as no shock. But I just don't see it. Alabama 27, Texas 24.

Clendon Ross, Co-Publisher – In my Publisher Letter in the National Title Game Preview Edition of the Inside Texas magazine, I wrote that history is on the side of the Horns in the title game match-up with Alabama. Texas has never lost to Alabama, Mack Brown’s teams have won five straight bowl games (including two in the very stadium where the Horns and Crimson Tide will square off on Thursday), Texas is a decided underdog and given little chance by many to beat favored Alabama, much like in the 2006 title game vs. USC, etc. etc.

But history will not run down the Rose Bowl tunnels, on either side of the field.

No, Texas will not win this game because of history, Texas will win this game because it is the better team. Barely.

This game is as equally matched and as close to a toss-up as any in history of Longhorn football. That’s just the nature of this season in college football, where there is no one dominant team. Nor are there two dominant teams, like the last time Texas played for the title. This time, there are two very good but flawed teams squaring off, which, in essence, sets up a situation similar to the titanic UT-USC match-up: a toss-up.

I’m picking Texas to win this game in Pasadena for much the same reason I picked the Horns over the Trojans: the quarterback position. I simply believe that Colt McCoy, as he has done so many times, will make the plays that he has to with the game on the line for Texas to earn the win. That’s no slight of Greg McElroy, who has proven himself worthy of respect over an undefeated season. But McElroy hasn’t engineered a come-from-behind win under the glaring spotlight of a BCS bowl. McCoy has. In the title game, McCoy’s workman-like approach may not be as pretty as Vince Young’s seemingly superhuman performance, but the result will be the same.

McCoy and his offensive teammates, like VY and his, will also get a big assist in this one from the Longhorn defense. The Horns have already won two games this season while scoring less than 20 points (first time that’s happened at UT since 2002) and Will Muschamp’s D will need an effort similar to what we saw in Dallas (at the Cotton Bowl and at Jerry World) for Texas to take the title. That’s exactly what I expect we’ll see from Muschamp’s guys vs. a ‘Bama offense that has been built up perhaps beyond its means following the win over a short-handed Florida defense. Texas 20, Alabama 19.

Average of IT Members Picks: Texas 26, Alabama 18

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