I'm not a religious man (just ask my mother), but for whatever reason, I have no trouble believing in football-related superstitions of all varieties.
My favorite is the Heisman jinx. It posits that the team fielding the winner of the Heisman trophy is fated to lose in their bowl game.
Sometimes it's due to a sub-prime performance by the winner.
Sometimes, if the jinx is feeling particularly malevolent, the loss will be to team fielding a player who was as terrific, but who was passed over for the award.
The Heisman jinx is newer to football fandom than the Madden curse, but it is just as pervasive.
Look at the results over the past four years: 2008 winner Sam Bradford is bottled up by the Florida defense, while Tim Tebow shines in the national championship.
In 2007, Michigan's Chad Henne outduels a young, heroic and injured Tebow in the Capital One Bowl to give the Wolverines the win.
2006, same story: winner Troy Smith completes four passes and takes seven sacks in the national championship loss to Florida.
In 2005, Reggie Bush's Trojans lose to Vince Young in his Rose Bowl-slaying prime.
Of course, there's more at work here than jinxes. For me, what explains the struggles of teams that seem to feature America's most talented player (or whatever the Heisman stands for nowadays) is that the bowl season is not an extension of the regular season. It is a self-contained, single-game entity that operates regardless of either team's record. Its results cannot be predicted based on the performances a player has put on or the statistics he's compiled over the regular season.
This explains everything from why Wyoming was able to beat Fresno State to how Terrelle Pryor was able to have the game he had in the Rose Bowl. Coaching and preparation are much bigger factors than talent, "explosiveness" or record.
In the bowl season, there are no underdogs. When a team has a month or more to prepare, watch film and assess the weaknesses of its opponents, the playing field is arguably leveled. The term "upset" becomes, at best, a misdiagnosis. At worst, it's an insult to the coaching staff.
So I'm not content to say the Heisman jinx will be what causes Alabama to lose. Jinxes are too far to the extreme opposite from statistical explanation.
But I still maintain that Colt McCoy will outshine Ingram and lead the Longhorns past the Tide, jinx or no jinx.
My reason for predicting that McCoy will emerge as the best player in this game comes down to how their two differing positions prepare, and what that preparation makes them capable of in big games.
I'll cite the Pryor example again: Ohio State's coaches knew they couldn't beat Oregon by blasting the power-O. In fact, the Bucks' ground attack hadn't produced a 1,000 yard rusher for the first time since their dismal 2004 campaign (and what's more, Pryor was their leading rusher).
Tressel and company knew that only a great game from Pryor would keep Ohio State's offense rolling and Oregon's off the field. Pryor, not Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli, was the x-factor.
Similarly, though a running back can pick up difficult yards through persistence and toughness, a great QB can move the chains using intelligence, preparation and anticipation. All three of these things are better developed by time off than mere strength. And Texas has had plenty of time off.
This explains why Nick Saban is making Alabama's practices particularly brutal . The Tide, behind Ingram and Trent Richardson, will probably try and outmuscle Texas, a facet of the game in which they arguably have an advantage. Their passing aside, Big XII teams don't face great rushing attacks game-in and game-out.
But while Ingram affects Alabama's chances at a win, Texas lives and dies with Colt McCoy, and this is the difference between being crucial and being great.
Since his days as a middling three-star recruit, one who inherited an impossibly heavy mantle as a redshirt freshman, McCoy has required coaching up.
But he has shown the capability to prepare that is as good a substitute to innate talent as a player can have. He has expanded his talents to become as reliable as his predecessor, and Texas' undefeated bowl record with him at the helm is no coincidence.
To draw the comparison one last time: Reggie Bush was a part of USC's offensive juggernaut. Vince Young was Vince Young. Young had the greatest performance of his life in his final game as a Longhorn, and though he may have had more talent than McCoy to lean on, how much he prepared against a seemingly unbeatable defense was probably the difference in the game.
So while a running back can study and practice for what a defense will do to an extent, a quarterback, particularly one as seasoned as McCoy, can truly guide the fate of his team. QBs are x-factors, and x-factors, more than jinxes, decide the fate of games.
Colt McCoy will outshine Mark Ingram because he and his coaches have prepared him to. To us, it will only look like a jinx.
Texas 28, Alabama 20
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