There are no guarantees in bowl season, least of all in the national championship.
Anyone who has followed my output for B/R will verify that I like envisioning how the underdog can steal the win, and there's no better crucible to test that in than the slaying that's supposed to take place in Pasadena on January 7th, 2010.
The Longhorns are -5, limping in off of an anemic effort against Nebraska, facing an Alabama team that has been forged in the cauldron of the greatest conference this side of the decade. How can they possibly hope to win?
If Texas is to repeat the myth-slaying of its 2005 brother-in-arms, and keep alive the mantle of the "underdog," here are five reasons they'll be able to do it.
I've never bought much stock in good kick return games—the return seems too chaotic to be capable of prediction—but Texas' is legit.
In the win over Oklahoma last year, Jordan Shipley's 96-yard return for a touchdown rejuvenated the Longhorns' offense, after Texas had fallen behind by eleven points and were in danger of losing their grip.
In this year's too-close-for-comfort games against Texas Tech and Colorado, Shipley's returns for touchdowns provided a necessary spark to the scoreboard.
And while Texas' return game is legit, Alabama's kick return defense...kind of isn't. The Tide are second-to-last in the conference in return yard average and have given up a whopping 1899 yards to go with two touchdowns (the most TDs allowed off kicks was three, by South Carolina).
The numbers are a little misleading simply because the Tide kick off more than most teams, but the average doesn't lie. Even with all those young, up-and-coming defensive backs flying around the field, there's a weakness there that Texas can exploit.
Assuming a tight defensive struggle that turns on a few plays, kick return yardage, and maybe a special teams touchdown, could determine the outcome of the game.
Depending on how you feel about Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Mallett, and Chris Todd, Colt McCoy will be the best and most seasoned quarterback Alabama has faced all year.
McCoy's body of work as quarterback is stunning. Despite middle-tier recruiting hype, he's has built himself into the most decorated passer in UT history.
The most wins of any player in NCAA history; a multiple-year All-American and Davey O'Brien award winner; winner of the Maxwell Award, a sort of alternate-universe Heisman; not to mention the gritty performances against Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Nebraska that, if they weren't season-defining, at least were enough to eke out the win.
He's a four-year starter in a system that fits his strengths effortlessly, so if you're thinking of challenging his efficiency rating versus Mallett's, don't bother.
And he finally knows the rule about throwing the ball out of bounds. With that kind of information, this kid could be unstoppable.
Piggybacking off that last point, the SEC defensive style, with few exceptions, is to stuff the run and force quarterbacks into third and longs, off of which the defense can get stops, notch sacks, or force turnovers.
Texas' offensive attack won't play into that style. Much to the chagrin of some of its fanbase, which has had to watch a once-proud running game evolve into a pass-heavy spread, Texas throws to set up the run. Its base set is three- and four-wide, one- or two- back, depending on the need for pass protection. For a heavy, hard-hitting defense used to subbing in nickel packages on third down, that could spell trouble.
And though the Longhorns have struggled to develop a secondary receiver to Shipley, they've found a way both to keep Shipley active and to keep the chains moving. Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll, and Dan Buckner need to have monster games, but Texas OC Greg Davis will find a way to keep them involved.
Additionally, while Terrence Cody is as physically imposing, he's no Ndamukong Suh. He's a run stopper, not a sackmaster, and his talents, to that end will be largely useless. There's no way Texas runs the ball, even on a draw, with Cody on the line.
This will force Alabama to either keep Cody in, assume a pass is coming, but lose out on the pass rush, or take him out and risk Texas checking to a draw or trap play that could be equally as lethal.
Plus there's always McCoy taking off with his legs. With 348 rushing yards, he's only 150 yards shy of being the team's leading rusher, and he showed how dangerous he can be on the ground in the A&M game. Another performance like that, and he could be more Tebow than Tebow ever was in the SEC championship.
While Alabama will be unsuccessful in applying the stop-the-run, force the pass methodology to the Texas offense, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp understands that that's still the best way to beat the Tide.
Muschamp, a transplant from Auburn who took over for Gene Chizik in 2005, stated that his goal against Oklahoma State this year was to stop the run and force the pass. To that end, the Longhorns were successful, completely dislodging the Cowboys from their comfort zone and leading to a 41-14 win, still the Longhorns' best of the year.
Meanwhile, in all of its close games, Alabama has struggled to establish its running game. Mark Ingram's paltry efforts against Tennessee and Auburn were, without question, the reason those games came so close.
And while they may have looked offensively incompetent, the Cornhuskers were throwing an 1100 yard rusher at the Texas defense in the Big 12 championship, and the Longhorns held him to his second-lowest output of the year.
If Texas can hold Alabama to a similarly small output, this will have the effect of putting pressure on Greg McElroy. And though he was credited with the SEC championship win, that effort was relieved by a 251-yard effort by the Alabama rushing attack, at least some of which hadn't been racked up before the game was out of reach.
I don't think it's possible that Greg McElroy can this game on his shoulders, just as I don't believe he did before. I also don't expect as profound a regression as we saw in, say, the Tennessee game, but the scheming will be similar, and so may be the result.
If that's a recipe for a tight game, it's important to remember that such a struggle favors nobody—the Longhorns have eked out just as many close wins as the Tide.
Finally, the intangible to beat all intangibles...
Beginning with the Longhorns' "upset" of top-ranked USC in the 2005 national championship, an effort that functionally unravelled the Trojans' grip on the championship game for the rest of the decade, the underdog has won it in every subsequent year: Florida over the unkillable Ohio State offensive machine (with a lot of help from Ted Ginn's injury after running back the kickoff); Ohio State, steamrolled by LSU; and last but not least, Florida shutting down Sam Bradford and toppling no. 1 Oklahoma last year.
It's a curse to be at the top, and it doesn't help that those genius college football experts are predicting a stomping.
The similarities to the Ohio State-Florida game are probably more apt. The Big Ten was perceived as an incredibly tough conference, fresh off of hosting a showdown between no. 1 and no. 2., the winner of which was believed to be seasoned and destined for a national championship.
Meanwhile, like Texas, the 2006 Gators had had their struggles in the conference championship game, allowing Arkansas to take a 21-17 lead and then having their difficulties in putting the Razorbacks away with the game in hand.
This time, Texas boasts the elite passer and Alabama the running game, but the feel of this game is similar. That explains why the spread has tightened up since its original release, and could go even tighter.
The skepticism, knowing all this, is certainly well-founded. Here's calling for a tight game.