With another couple weeks until the National Championship game, let’s break down five keys to Alabama's chances of emerging with a victory.
5. They Can’t Give Up Big Kickoff Returns
As disciplined as Alabama is, it’s hard to believe that it actually ranks 117th out of 120 FBS college football teams in kickoff coverage, allowing 25 yards per return.
Texas is ranked 4th in kickoff return yardage, returning each for an average of 27 yards.
Even more scary is that, while we think about Texas' special teams and Jordan Shipley, it is actually D.J. Monroe who’s done the most damage. On the year, he’s returned two kicks for touchdowns, and his 35.79 yard average is ranked second in all of college football.
Alabama avoided a near-disaster on a kickoff against Florida in the SEC Championship game, when punter D.J. Fitzgerald made a touchdown-saving tackle against Brandon James.
If they are to win January 8, the Tide can make no such mistakes.
4. The Golden Foot of Leigh Tiffin
Staying with the special teams theme, let’s look at the kicking game.
While America knows Hunter Lawrence because of his ice-cold conversion in the last second of the Big XII Championship game, not nearly as many know Leigh Tiffin of Alabama.
Simply put, the Tide might not be undefeated without Tiffin.
He has converted 14 of his last 15 field goal attempts. Most importantly, he has come through when the Tide have needed him most.
He went 4-4 in a 12-10 win against Tennessee, and 5-5 in a win over Ole Miss.
3. Limit Colt McCoy
It seems easy enough, but few teams have been able to do it.
For a guy who once received death threats earlier in his career, what a turnaround 2009 has been.
However, the one team who could, Nebraska, has a defense built similarly to that of the Crimson Tide—a big physical line, aggressive linebackers, and smart defensive backs.
While it’s unrealistic to expect McCoy to throw three interceptions like he did against Nebraska, forcing just one could turn the game. That is of course, if this one is as low-scoring as expected.
And nobody has a better defensive backfield than Alabama, featuring All-American cornerback Javier Arenas and superstar safeties Justin Woodall and Mark Barron.
2. Show why Mark Ingram won the Heisman
It’s funny, because we spent all year discussing the merits of Alabama and Florida’s defenses. Occasionally we mentioned Nebraska’s as well.
Yet it was actually Texas who ranked No. 1 in the country in rushing yards, allowing just 62 per game.
The Longhorns' D features defensive end Sergio Kindle and linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy, two future NFL superstars—but they haven’t seen an offensive line as imposing as Alabama’s, led by All-American guard Mike Johnson.
They also haven’t seen the depth that Alabama can throw at them; we all saw what Trent Richardson did in the Iron Bowl against Auburn.
Needless to say, establishing a running game for the Tide is important, but it's not as important as our No. 1 factor.
1. Greg McElroy Continuing to Perform
Folks, the secret is out: This McElroy kid is actually pretty good.
He outplayed Tim Tebow in the SEC Championship game and led the drive of his life in the win against Auburn.
He has thrown for eight touchdowns and just one interception since Alabama’s bye on Halloween, and completed 33 of 49 passes in his last two games.
If McElroy can outplay McCoy, like he did Tebow in the SEC Championship, Alabama will have to make room for a new piece of hardware for their trophy case.