Here's the deal - I think Texas is better than Alabama. I think it has the better quarterback, the better overall offense and better special teams. If the defenses are a push (and I believe that they are), then I have to look at everything else that's on the table and in my mind the wrong team is favored in this game.
Frankly, I don't expect the first half of the game to be very pretty. Unless it comes in the form of a big play from either team's defense or special teams, we might not see either team hit double digits on the scoreboard in the first half.
However, there will come a point in the second half when Colt McCoy starts to take over this game, like he started to do against Nebraska before his teammates started dropping touchdowns and allowing defenders to steal passes from them. That's not going to happen in this game, as McCoy finds Jordan Shipley early for a score and opens up a double-digit lead in the second half on a long pass to Malcolm Williams.
It's going to be a defensive game and it will be decided by the quarterback that can make the play at the right moment. This is the moment he's been waiting for his entire life and he won't disappoint.
Texas 23 - Alabama 13
Texas needs a fast start on offense, and I'm not sure it is going to get it. If history is any indication, Texas has struggled to score touchdowns in the first half - let alone the first quarter - against elite defenses. (UT had no first-half TDs against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl last year or in the Oklahoma game this year). But if Texas can get on the board first with a touchdown, its job gets significantly easier.
I agree with Colt McCoy in that scoring opportunities are going to be few. Colt said "four or five" and that's probably about right against this Alabama defense. The defense and special teams will probably need to help set up some scoring opportunities, even if they are field goals, and I think Hunter Lawrence will be busy Thursday night. I see both Lawrence and Leigh Tiffin, Bama's kicker, probably providing three FGs each in this one because it will be so hard to score in the red area.
I have said the Legion of Boom will show up for this one and limit Alabama to 16 points or less. I've said Mark Ingram will be closer to the 30 yards rushing he had against Auburn than his 118-yard average. Trent Richardson will outrush Ingram and probably finish with around 75 or 80 yards. I think Texas will contain Bama's passing game, and UT can make its life a whole lot easier by hitting Greg McElroy early. The two games he got roughed up pretty good were Tennessee and Auburn, the two games Bama nearly lost.
I said earlier the offensive player of the game would be Tre' Newton if they used him as a receiver, but let's be honest. For Texas to win, the MVP has to be Colt McCoy. He will have to be as dialed in as ever to make checks at the line, keep plays alive, make the right throws and run when needed. He's certainly capable of it and has been brilliant on the big stage in the past, especially late in games. (He has 8 fourth-quarter comebacks for a reason.)
I see Texas behind 13-7 at halftime as Javier Arenas returns a punt or kick for a touchdown and electrifies the Bama base and then gets some help from Tiffin on a couple of field goals. McCoy gets into a rhythm and finds Marquise Goodwin on a long catch-and-run for a score in the second quarter. The third quarter turns into the Legion of Boom Show. Greg McElroy starts to get rocked and turns the ball over, setting up a FG for Lawrence, cutting Bama's lead to 13-10.
A big punt return by Jordan Shipley and a couple first downs helps set up another FG by Lawrence to tie the game, 13-13. Arenas has another big return to set up another FG by Tiffin and gives Bama a 16-13 lead going into the fourth quarter. After three-and-outs by both teams, McCoy finds Dan Buckner in a good matchup with Rolando McClain in the 10 personnel and Buckner goes right down the middle for a 40-yard pickup, setting up a field goal by Lawrence that ties the game at 16-16.
After a couple more three-and-outs, McCoy leads Texas on a drive from UT's 24-yard line with 2:30 left. The best two-minute offense in the country gets UT to the Bama 26 with 30 seconds left. It's 4th-and-4. Lawrence kicks at 43-yarder to put Texas up 19-16, and the Legion of Boom slams the door on the Tide as Texas collects its fifth national title.
Texas 19 - Alabama 16
This game, to me, has the feel of a contest that will play out similar to the Big 12 Championship, albeit with a few more points.
I expect both defenses to hold the upper hand and the first half will largely be a contest of field position, with the teams swapping out several punts. Alabama will strike first and take a very close lead into the locker room before the offenses start to settle into a groove in the third quarter.
Colt McCoy finds his rhythm in the second half and Alabama begins to get it going on the ground and with some play-action passes, helping both teams find the end zone after the break.
As with any game with teams evenly matched, this one comes down to a big play on defense or on special teams. There's always a chance that Texas gets either a big return off a kick or a punt to set up an easy score, but the guess here is that the Longhorn secondary capitalizes on an Alabama mistake to score a defensive touchdown, securing a narrow victory.
Texas 24 - Alabama 20
When the game was set, I was all about Alabama winning this game by a score of about 21-17. I thought the Texas offensive line would have too many problems with the front seven of Alabama. I thought the physicality of the Alabama power running game would eventually wear down the Texas defense.
This game is going to come down to field position, turnovers and one team making more big plays on a great defense. If it does come down to a number of field goals being kicked by both teams then it's going to come down to the last half of the fourth quarter. If it's crunch time, I'll take Colt McCoy over Greg McElroy any day of the week and twice on Sundays.
I think this Alabama teams comes into this game a little over-cooked if not flat out overrated. Texas will not be without its best defense player. This is a real confident Crimson Tide team even though it has struggled with some very average teams like Auburn and Tennessee.
Texas has had its times of struggle as well. Anybody that thinks that this game will be a blowout is over-cooking Alabama as well. I might be because everything in me says that Alabama will wear down the Texas defense because the Texas offensive line will create too many three and outs for the Texas offense. That is my football mind that is just as wrong as my heart.
I just have a feeling this one is going to be close. I don't see either team being able to pull away too far. I see a big special teams play by at least one of the two teams. I see both defenses making a few key plays to swing the momentum.
It's going to be a tug of war with and I don't see either team backing down. The thing that Texas has big on its side is Colt McCoy at quarterback.
To me, this is where Texas wins it. As the clock winds down to late in the fourth quarter I see McCoy putting Texas up for good and the Longhorns taking the ball game. That's right, Texas wins and Austin and the state of Texas will celebrate another championship.
Mack Brown, get ready to celebrate No. 2 because I'm giving this one the Jason Howell guarantee. Texas 31- Alabama 27
If you would have told me Texas would square off against Alabama before conference championship week, I would have told you I love the match-up for the Longhorns. So, what changed? Well, to me, not much. This is about the Longhorns and the Crimson Tide. It's not about the Cornhuskers, who, I might add, didn't look bad in the Holiday Bowl. Each team had its close calls. If you need evidence, check the Alabama box score in games against LSU, Auburn, and Tennessee.
I'll try to make this simple. Mack Brown is 6-0 in his last six bowl games and is 3-0 in BCS games, including two victories at the Rose Bowl. Will Muschamp is in charge of the best Texas defense I've seen this decade, and the numbers back that up. UT holds the advantage in the following areas: secondary, receivers, defensive line, special teams, and most importantly, quarterback.
What it boils down to is this - Colt McCoy versus Greg McElroy. Alabama's running attack is good, but it's not going to move the chains consistently against the UT defense. Both defenses are going to have to adjust to offenses they aren't used to seeing. So, who are you taking to lead the offense? Are you taking the NCAA's all-time most winningest quarterback who has visited New York in back-to-back seasons, is undefeated in bowl games, and 3-1 against rival Oklahoma? Or, are you taking a first year starter that was outperformed by Jonathan Crompton and Stephen Garcia at home this season?
Despite Mack channeling his inner Lou Holtz, and building that underdog role, he believes the Longhorns are the favorite. And so should you. Texas 27 - Alabama 20