Tide’s title is undisputed, not without mystery
AP College Football Writer
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) – The college football season rarely ends without unanswered questions.
Yes, Alabama’s championship is undisputed. Not even unbeaten Boise State is arguing about which team is No. 1. But it’s hard not to wonder how the BCS title game would have played out if Colt McCoy had not gotten hurt.
As for those Broncos, they must already be pondering the possibility of becoming the ultimate BCS busters in 2010.
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban had the last word on the 2009 season Friday at a news conference in Newport Beach. About 12 hours after Alabama beat Texas 37-21 at the Rose Bowl, he was still harping on the fact that his team came out flat in the third quarter. That the Tide players were acting as if they had already won the national championship when they bounded into the locker room at halftime up 24-6.
“I had to stand up on a chair and say this is a 60-minute game,” he said.
No doubt there are Texas fans – maybe even some players and coach Mack Brown – who are thinking it was actually about a 4-minute game.
That’s how long McCoy played in the final college game of his spectacular career. The overwhelming consensus going into the BCS championship game was that the Longhorns’ chances rested on the shoulders of McCoy, the All-American quarterback with a record 45 victories as a starter.
When Tide defensive end Marcell Dareus injured McCoy’s right shoulder with a solid hit on Texas’ fifth offensive play, everything changed. The Longhorns’ offense went dark for the rest of the half.
Two great scoring opportunities Alabama gave Texas with special teams miscues resulted in only six points for the Longhorns. What if McCoy had been in to finish off those drives?
“After Colt got hurt, obviously we were limited in some of the things we could do,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.
Freshman backup Garrett Gilbert settled in after an awful first half, threw two touchdowns to Jordan Shipley and gave the Tide a scare.
Not until Alabama’s lead was down to 24-21 did the Tide rev its engines again and put away Texas.
Alabama played like the best team in the country for most of the season, even when the Tide was ranked behind Florida and Texas it seemed that Saban’s squad had the most depth and versatility, the most ways it could win a game.
With a virtually nonexistent passing game – Greg McElroy completed six passes for 58 yards against Texas – Alabama scored 37 points. The Tide ran over the top-ranked run defense in the nation with Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and freshman Trent Richardson. The Alabama defense, powered by three All-Americans, got the biggest plays from less-heralded players, such as Dareus and Eryk Anders.
There’s a good chance Alabama beats Texas even if McCoy doesn’t get hurt. But what if?
Of course, while Longhorns fans stew over that, the question the Tide fans are asking is ‘What about another one next season?’
That nasty Alabama defense has to be rebuilt. All-American nose guard Terrence Cody is gone. So is All-American cornerback Javier Arenas, who will be missed just as much as a punt returner. All-American linebacker Rolando McClain is a junior, but a projected top-10 NFL draft pick, so figure he’s played his last college game.
Still, Saban’s been cleaning up in recruiting since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007. Alabama will most likely be No. 1 to start next season, whether Saban likes it or not.
“We have some good young players, and it’ll be a great opportunity for them,” Saban said. “But every team is different, and every team as issues and problems that you have to resolve in terms of development of players that you have and your ability to recruit and replace the right people and develop the right chemistry.”
Which teams will stand in the way of the Tide making it two in a row?
Getting out of the toughest conference in the country might not be quite as difficult for Alabama next season. Florida, the Tide’s main competition the last two seasons, faces the uncertainty surrounding coach Urban Meyer and the likely loss of about 18 starters, including Tim Tebow.
The Tide and Gators play in the regular season in 2010. Alabama also faces a big nonconference game against Penn State on Sept. 11 in Tuscaloosa.
Nationally, plenty of the usual suspects will be expected to contend, including Ohio State and Texas. The Longhorns have to feel good replacing McCoy after the way Gilbert played in the second half against Alabama.
But the most intriguing contender is Boise State. The Broncos’ 17-10 victory against TCU in the Fiesta Bowl, combined with the prospect of returning about 20 starters, means they will start the season in prime position to make a serious run.
And if they have another perfect regular season – which would mean victories against what should be a highly ranked Virginia Tech team and a very solid Oregon State squad – the Broncos probably won’t have to settle for just any BCS game.
Boise State is in position to become the first team from a conference without an automatic bid to the BCS to play in the championship game.
Boise State vs. Alabama in Arizona for the title?
Ohio State and two different Big 12 champions haven’t been able to stop SEC teams from winning the last four national titles.
Maybe it’s time to give one of the so-called little guys a shot.
Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press. Write to him at rrusso(at)ap.org.