I decided to go ahead and do a score projection for the national title game the same way I did for the SEC title game. Now, I know that the game in Atlanta didn't end up as close as the numbers said it would be. Such is life when one team takes the game seriously and the other largely views it as a victory lap. The method is the same there, so check it out if you're unfamiliar.
Texas 24 - Alabama 21
Alabama 313 total yards; Texas 283 total yards.
Alabama 20 - Texas 18
Alabama 305 total yards; Texas 279 total yards.
I was a bit surprised to see it this close, honestly. However while both teams have good offenses and good defenses, Bama's defense is a cut above Texas' (holding opponents to 52% below their average score, as opposed to 29% below for the 'Horns) and Texas' offense is a cut above Bama's (scoring 44% above opponents' average allowed, as opposed to 22% above for the Tide).
One thing that plays into Alabama's favor to a degree is the fact that the Tide had a rougher road to hoe than Texas has had. Florida is the best opponent either team has played, Virginia Tech is on par with Nebraska, and from there the comparison is pretty one-sided. It helps with dealing with adversity, but I don't think it plays that big a factor. One of the biggest fallacies in sports is that untested necessarily means inferior. Just take the Fiesta Bowl. TCU had played a tougher regular season, but that didn't stop Boise State from winning.
Beyond that, this game is bursting with comparisons. Take your pick among these three, though I could do more.
Now Alabama as Pre-SEC Title Game Alabama
- Going up against preseason Heisman favorite
- Old school grit against flashy spread offense
- Has played a tougher schedule than opponent
'09 Texas as '05 Texas
- Underdog against seemingly unstoppable force (SEC/'05 USC)
- Playing the Heisman winner while believing their own guy should have won it
- In the Rose Bowl
Now Alabama as Pre-SEC Title Game Florida
- Cruised in three of last four games
- Opponent is coming in off of a near-death experience
- Is being told from a lot of places that it will win
I'll stop there for now. These are interesting parallels, however as Mark Twain said history doesn't repeat itself, but it does sometimes rhyme. I don't know where the harmonies will come from in tonight's contest, but I do hope that it ends up a great game.
Ultimately, I think it will be difficult for Texas to run the ball. That's not as big an issue for UT as it was for Florida last month since Texas has a lot of good receivers who the quarterback trusts. Special teams could be huge since Javier Arenas and Jordan Shipley are two of the most dangerous return guys in the country. When teams are this close, a return for a score might end up the difference in the game.
I'm not sure what to make of the Heisman Curse and how it might affect Mark Ingram and the Tide offense. For one thing, I'm not sure the dang thing even exists since it wasn't that long ago that Matt Leinart won both the trophy and the title. Plus two recent Heisman winners, Tim Tebow and Reggie Bush, played just fine in their bowl games and helped lead their teams to 35+ points. Their defenses let them down and caused the losses, and I doubt Alabama's defense will let Ingram down too much.
I'll be rooting for Alabama tonight, partly out of conference pride but mostly because it's nice to know your only loss is to the eventual national champion. If the Tide does fall short, I won't be too broken up about it since I think Mack Brown is a good guy and I'm still grateful to the 'Horns for beating Nebraska in 1996.
Both teams have struggled when faced with great defenses. No national champion of the past decade has given up more than 31 points in a regular season game, and Texas allowed 39 to Texas A&M. When my projections disagree, the percentage is usually right. I see this as a low scoring slog, personally, with Bama coming out on top.
Prediction: Alabama 20 - Texas 17.