January 7, 2010

BCS Championship: Alabama vs. Texas

Previews: Tide players to watch | Longhorns to watch | Saban or Brown? | Picks

WHO GETS THE EDGE?

Alabama rush offense vs. Texas rush defense: Alabama struggled to run twice - in a two-point win over Tennessee and a five-point win over Auburn; the Tide ran for 209 total yards - and one TD - in those two games. Stopping the run is what Texas must hang its hat on. Just three opponents rushed for 100 yards on the Longhorns and they've allowed just five rushing TDs. Alabama RB/Heisman winner Mark Ingram has run for 1,542 yards and 15 TDs; he has scored at least one TD in 10 of the Tide's 13 games. Backup Trent Richardson might be a freshman, but he's a bruiser with speed. Texas LB Roddrick Muckelroy, the Longhorns' leading tackler, must play well.
Edge: Alabama

BCS CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Alabama (13-0)
vs. Texas (13-0)

WHEN: 8 p.m., Thursday.
WHERE: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
TV: ABC (Brent Musburger will do play-by-play, with Kirk Herbstreit as the analyst).
THE LINE: Alabama by 4.
RECORDS VS. BOWL TEAMS: Alabama 9-0, Texas 8-0.
NCAA SCHEDULE STRENGTH: Alabama 2nd, Texas 15th.
BCS RANKINGS: Alabama 1st, Texas 2nd.
OFFICIALS: A crew from the Big East.
COACHES: Alabama - Nick Saban (4-6 in bowls); Texas - Mack Brown (11-6 in bowls).
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Come on - it's for the national title. It also matches two of the sport's best coaches. (And, sadly, it's the last college game for almost eight months.)
KEY STATS: Alabama is No. 12 in the nation in rush offense at 215.9 yards per game. Texas is No. 1 in the nation in rush defense at 62.2 yards per game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Alabama RB Mark Ingram won the Heisman; Texas QB Colt McCoy finished third. How much success will they have against two powerful defenses? Ingram had a huge day against Florida in the SEC championship game; McCoy struggled mightily against Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game.
Alabama pass offense vs. Texas pass defense: Junior QB Greg McElroy has been a steady hand in his first season as the starter. McElroy had some consistency problems midway through the season, but he seems to have ironed them out. He has 17 TD passes and just four picks. WR Julio Jones is an underutilized big-play guy, and while Marquis Maze has just 30 receptions, he is dangerous. TE Colin Peek is a weapon, too. Ingram is tied for second on the team with 30 receptions and must be accounted for in this game. Texas is tied for the national lead with 24 interceptions, and FS Earl Thomas is a big-timer. Texas allowed 14 TD passes, and seven of those came in two games (Texas Tech and Texas A&M). Texas has 39 sacks, and E Sam Acho leads with eight. Alabama has allowed just 15 sacks.
Edge: Texas

Texas rush offense vs. Alabama rush defense: Texas has been mediocre running the ball. Redshirt freshman Tre' Newton, the son of Nate Newton, is the leading rusher - with just 513 yards. QB Colt McCoy is dangerous. Although he hasn't run as much this season as in the past two, you figure Texas coaches will call a few runs for him in this one. Cody Johnson is an effective goal-line back. Alabama is No. 2 nationally in rush defense and the Tide have allowed just five rushing touchdowns (two came in the season opener). Only three teams have reached the 100-yard plateau against Alabama. DT Terrence Cody is a big-time run-stuffer in the middle, and there's an active linebacker corps headed by Rolando McClain.
Edge: Alabama

Texas pass offense vs. Alabama pass defense: The Longhorns have thrown the ball well this season, averaging 279.7 yards per game. McCoy has thrown for 3,512 yards, with 27 TDs and 12 picks; he has thrown at least two TD passes in eight games. WR Jordan Shipley is the go-to guy; he has 11 TD catches but struggled against Nebraska and Oklahoma (11 total catches, no TDs). Shipley is one of five Longhorns with at least 34 catches. Malcolm Williams is a deep threat. Alabama is eighth in the nation in pass defense and second in pass efficiency defense; Alabama has allowed nine TD passes and has 20 interceptions. CB Javier Arenas and SS Mark Barron have played at a high level. Alabama has a solid pass rush, and Tide coaches do a good job with linebacker and corner blitzes. Despite McCoy's mobility, Texas has allowed 30 sacks.
Edge: Even

Alabama special teams vs. Texas special teams: Tide K Leigh Tiffin has been busy this season, going 29-of-33 on field goals. Thirteen of those made kicks have come from between 20 and 29 yards, which shows the problems Alabama has had in the red zone. Tiffin also is 6-for-8 from beyond 40 yards, including a 50-yarder. P P.J. Fitzgerald averages 42.1 yards per kick. Alabama's coverage teams have been shaky; the Tide give up 9.0 yards per punt return and 25.6 per kickoff return, with two taken back for scores. On the plus side for the Tide: Arenas is one of the best return men in the nation, averaging 16.3 yards (with one score) on punts and 29.0 on kickoffs. Texas K Hunter Lawrence is 22-of-25, including 9-for-11 from beyond 40 yards. P Justin Tucker, a rugby-style kicker, averages 40.6 yards per kick and has pinned 15 of his 39 attempts inside the 20. Shipley is an excellent punt returner, averaging 13.0 yards per return, with two for touchdowns. D.J. Monroe and Marquise Goodwin are high-level kick returners, combining for three touchdowns. As with Alabama, Texas is shaky in coverage, having allowed opponents to return a kick and a punt for scores.
Edge: Even

Alabama coaching staff vs. Texas coaching staff: These are two of the best staffs in the nation, headed by two of the best - and two of the most highly paid - coaches in the country in Alabama's Nick Saban and Texas' Mack Brown. Each has won one national title, and Saban is trying to become the first major-college football coach to win national titles at different schools. The games-within-the-game between Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and between Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis and Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart are going to be fun to watch. Muschamp, a Saban protege, is the best coordinator in this game.
Edge: Even

X-factor: Both teams have great return men and both teams have shaky coverage units. Will there be a big return? And any turnovers could be huge. Alabama has a plus-16 turnover margin, and Texas is at plus-12. The Longhorns have forced 35 turnovers, second-most in the nation; Alabama has committed just 10, which is tied for the national low with Cincinnati.

Alabama will win if: Applying pressure on McCoy is the key. The Tide should be able to stifle Texas' rushing attack, which means they can tee off on McCoy. Offensively, the Tide must be balanced early; coaches will want to rely on Ingram and Richardson late.

Texas will win if: McCoy has to have a monster game. It's hard to see a team with a mediocre rushing attack beating Alabama, which means McCoy needs to produce big plays with his arm and his legs. The last time we saw McCoy, he was getting battered by Nebraska. Good news for McCoy is that Nebraska's front four is better than Alabama's front three. Bad news for McCoy is that Alabama's back eight is better than Nebraska's back seven.

EXPERT PICKS
Olin Buchanan: Alabama 27, Texas 20
Tom Dienhart: Alabama 28, Texas 14
David Fox: Alabama 31, Texas 24
Mike Huguenin: Alabama 20, Texas 16
Steve Megargee: Alabama 27, Texas 17

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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