If you’re a fan of any college football team except the Alabama Crimson Tide, tonight should be a good time to catch up on the holiday movies. In the Bowl Championship Series national title game in Pasadena, the number one-ranked Tide is favored over the number two-ranked Texas Longhorms by 3 ½ points. The bad news for Texas is that many computer power-ranking systems — such as the ever-reliable Jeff Sagarin of USA Today — put the difference between the two teams at six or seven points. Sagarin’s pre-bowl number rates Alabama at 98.22 to Texas’s 91.47.
Even worse news for Texas is that, historically, the top teams in bowl games that have a month to prepare usually win by much more than the point spread. In the last three BCS championships the winners outscored their opponents 103-52, a hefty 51-point difference.
Not coincidentally, the last three BCS championship winners were from the Southeastern Conference, a league whose record in big games closely approximates Clint Eastwood’s in gunfights.
SEC teams have won or shared 18 of the last 52 national championships, including a 5-0 record in title games since the current BCS system was initiated in 1998. (The Big 12 is the only other conference to win as many as two games, but has lost four.) As CBS analyst Gary Danielson correctly put it during the conference’s title match between Alabama and Florida (won by the Crimson Tide 32-13), “Fans around the country are beginning to regard the SEC championship game as the national championship game.”
Since its inception, critics have blasted the BCS for its failure to annually produce a competitive national championship match. (The only game to be closer than seven points was the thrilling victory of Vince Young-led Texas over Southern Cal for the 2005 championship, and seven have been decided by 10 or more points.) But if this season’s contest turns out to be lop-sided, the BCS isn’t to blame. Alabama and Florida were clearly the two best teams in the country this season, and they settled the issue of who should be the number one-seed in the January 7 game when they played each other. Barring an Alabama-Florida rematch, the only remaining question was who would be invited to Pasadena to meet the SEC champ. Texas looks like the best of the rest, despite playing a schedule that didn’t include a single top ten team (as ranked by Sagarin) and only two ranked in his top thirty.
BCS second-guessers, who include President Obama, are constantly calling for a playoff to decide the national championship, but really, what other teams out there are worthy of playing for the top spot? Three other contenders went unbeaten during the regular season – Cincinnati, Boise Sate, and TCU. Cincinnati was obliterated by Florida 51-24 in the Sugar Bowl, and Boise State defeated TCU 17-10 in a lackluster Fiesta Bowl. None of these teams played a schedule anywhere near as tough as Alabama’s; the Crimson Tide defeated nine Division I-A teams with winning records, including three victories over teams in Sagarin’s top ten and seven in his top thirty. Texas looks like the best of the rest.
No matter how you crunch the numbers, Alabama, like the last three SEC champions, is in a class by itself – and I promise I’d say this even if I wasn’t an Alabama grad and the author of The Last Coach, a biography of Bear Bryant. In the tradition of recent SEC powerhouses, Alabama has a marvelous balance that no other team outside their conference can match with five Associated Press All-Americas. This includes Heisman Trophy winner running back Mark Ingram and guard Michael Johnson on offense, and on defense tackle Terrence Cody, cornerback Javier Arenas and Rolando McClain, winner of this year’s Dick Butkus Award as the outstanding college linebacker. Ooops, make that six All-Americas for Alabama, including kicker Leigh Tiffin. And that doesn’t even include the man who many regard as the team’s best all-around athlete, sophomore wide receiver Julio Jones, who caught 42 passes.
Alabama’s main strength is their running attack led by Ingram, who gained 1542 yards. In fact, their second leading ball carrier, Trent Richardson, outrushed Texas’s best runner Tre’ Newton, 642 yards to 513.
Texas’s strong suit is quarterback Colt McCoy, third in the Heisman balloting. Is McCoy, though, as good as his Alabama counterpart, Greg McElroy? He certainly was more prolific, 468 passes for 3512 yards to McElroy’s 314 throws for 2450 yards. But the quality numbers confirm that McElroy threw better: 7.8 yards per throw to McCoy’s 7.5 with a superior TD-to-interception ratio, 17-4, to McCoy’s 27-12. The really telling stat is that McElroy was sacked just 13 times all season while opposing pass rushers dropped McCoy 30 times. And Alabama has the better pass rushers.
Let’s put it this way. I’m an Alabama fan, and by the fourth quarter of the game, I plan on being in a theater watching Avatar.