PASADENA, Calif. -- It turns out that maybe the SEC doesn't rule the world. There's a possibility that Alabama isn't ready to string together a bunch of championships.
Oh, and Texas certainly does have enough testosterone to actually compete in Thursday's BCS national championship game.
|Mack Brown almost ended up playing for Alabama. (US Presswire)|
Then again, Texas' 58-year-old coach usually does. He's that kind of schmooze. Brown doesn't answer questions from reporters, he recruits them like he does defensive backs.
Whether Brown can translate Wednesday's presser/rally into that real upset in Thursday's BCS championship game is up for debate. A debate Brown waded into on Wednesday.
"This [Texas] football team has won 26 of 27 and they're soft," Brown said sarcastically on Wednesday. "Lord, I hope they can get tougher again tomorrow night.
"I think we have 47 active players in the NFL. We have three guys that have gained 1,000 yards this year in the NFL, and people say our NFL guys are soft. Well, some fools keep drafting them."
If perception is reality then Texas is done before it takes the field. Alabama is favored by four but the line could be four touchdowns when you start to break down the game. Texas gave up nine sacks in the Big 12 Championship Game against Nebraska. Ndamukong Suh gives way to Terrence Cody.
A program that produced Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams is average at running the ball. Not a good sign when the reigning Heisman Trophy is in Tuscaloosa for the first time and specializes in wearing down opponents.
Saban sounds like a mob boss when he warns his team about being favored.
"Think that you're being set up," he said.
Brown talked to a pro golfer who told him: "You're going to have to hit most of the fairways and make some long putts to win this game."
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Saban reportedly pulled out his computer to start scouting on the plane trip back from Atlanta after beating Florida. Does Brown have to tip the caddy before kickoff?
Mack has heard it. We've all heard it. Texas has great kids and a great program. They're outgoing and friendly. But football is not outgoing and friendly. Texas has won at least 10 games for nine consecutive seasons. Alabama has turned the corner in the last two seasons. Suddenly, it seems like it's hopeless for the 'Horns.
"The perception is that the football teams in the SEC are much better than the football teams in the Big 12," Brown said. "We're talking about a league that's been there forever as compared to a league that's been around 12, 13 years."
There was the same mood four years ago when Texas wasn't given a shot against USC's Forever Team of Bush and Leinart. That seemed to work out.
This is personal on many levels. Texas leads the country with 24 interceptions. Saban's defense leads the country in surliness.
"The coach says the fun is in winning," linebacker Rolando McClain said. "So we're not really out here to have fun."
Both starting quarterbacks are from Texas. Colt McCoy is a two-time Heisman finalist. Greg McElroy is undefeated in high school and college as a starter at 29-0.
Mack was recruited by Bear Bryant. The 17-year-old Brown was a solid verbal to Alabama before his parents intervened and made him follow his brother Watson to Vanderbilt.
"I think Coach Bryant still walks the halls at Tuscaloosa," Brown said.
Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was given his first big shot by Saban in 2001 at LSU. Texas running backs coach Major Applewhite was a Longhorns quarterback and coached under Saban.
Brown can wrap up his recruiting class before Christmas without leaving the state. If Alabama fans had their way, Tide coaches wouldn't get Christmas off.
"It's the same way in both states. The fans are completely sick," Applewhite said. "They love it. That's the way the players want it. You want to work somewhere where it's rabid."
The truth about both programs heading into Thursday is in their heads and hearts. Alabama has been able to weather two probations and five coaching changes this decade. National championships used to be viewed in Tuscaloosa as a birthright. Now the Tide are just trying to become a national power again.
A win by Texas shouldn't be viewed as a "Miracle on Ice" moment especially considering that the school is already No. 1 in one category, pure profit. Texas football made $65 million in 2008 according to CNNMoney.
"I do think it's perception," Brown said. "I smile. I shake hands. I laugh. I like for the kids to have fun [but] these kids are tough."
It just doesn't shine through when The Sabanator continues to urinate dour.
"Is anybody having trouble understanding me?" Saban asked reporters as he tried to fight off allergies.
Sir, no sir. "When you beat a team like that, it's one of two things," Saban said of the Florida win, "is that the end or is that the beginning?"
Sounds rather apocalyptic. It is because we could be on the brink of one of the sport's all-time dynasties. If you haven't noticed, the SEC is at the top of its game and getting better. If Alabama wins that would make it four in a row for the SEC and five of the last seven.
Another SEC win and the rest of the country might as well be playing for the Gator Bowl.
The league's run is fueled by July's completion of the 15-year, $3 billion deal with CBS and ESPN. There is a nagging fear throughout the game that the SEC is going to run away and hide. Within the SEC there is the fear that Alabama itself is getting ready to make a run.
No one outside Tuscaloosa wants to see that. The school has won one title (1992) since Bear died. From 1961 to 1979, 'Bama won six in 19 years.
If Saban stuck around that long he might do it, too. A win might make him the coach of the decade if for no other reason than Saban is on his fourth job since 1999. He would become the first coach to win national championships at two different schools in the wire-service era (since 1936).
The Big Ten is so jealous of the cash being generated that it feels compelled to look at expansion. Part of what happens, then, is about ego of a different kind.
After the SEC, the Big 12 hasn't exactly been a slouch having played in five of the previous 11 BCS title games. Texas alone has played in BCS games four of the last six years, twice for the national championship.
The Soon To Be Large Dozen can only envy the star power in the Rose Bowl, romping around on the conference's sacred, hallowed turf. The programs have combined for 11 wire-service/BCS championships. The meeting is one of those that is usually only possible in a bowl. Alabama has played 71 major-college teams in its history. It is winless against four from current BCS conferences. Texas (0-7-1) is one of them. The eight-game winless streak has lingered since the 1982 Cotton Bowl.
There are $9 million in annual head coaching salaries alone. Brown is the game's highest-paid coach at $5 million largely because this is his third Rose Bowl in six years. Not to be outdone, in its bowl media guide, Alabama proudly proclaims that its first Rose Bowl in 1926 –- a victory over Washington -– "legitimized Southern football nationally."
Both schools have Heismans (thanks now to Mark Ingram), countless All-Americans and budgets so large they are rated by financial experts. CNNMoney rated Alabama No. 8 with a paltry $38 million in football profit.
"The BCS," Brown said of the battle of unbeatens in the ultimate game, "got lucky."
This is the place, then, to decide which way college football is headed. Texas isn't going away anytime soon and Alabama, win or lose, should be the preseason No. 1.
Whatever happens Thursday, this isn't over until the 'Horns and Tide say it is. Take them both against the field in 2010. Kickoff for next season is eight months away.
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