The Last and Greatest Gift of the Holiday Season

    Winter break is my favorite time of year. And it isn’t because of family, the chilly weather or the fact that I can stare at the wall every day without having to think anything scholastic. No, what I love most about the holiday season is that it allows me to get away from my family, stay indoors and stare at something other than a wall: college football.

    I laugh when 94 percent of America picks Houston to beat Air Force, but the Falcons dominate with their option attack. I cry when my hometown team Fresno State loses in double overtime after a ridiculous goal-line play call that should be getting Pat Hill fired — not what will likely result in a multi-million dollar extension. I nearly fall to the floor from a heart attack when Bowling Green, Idaho and the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl makes for more fireworks than a Disneyland Fourth of July display.

    This rollercoaster of emotion will come to a halt tonight when Alabama meets Texas for the BCS National Championship. Hate the Bowl Championship Series system or love it, they got it right this year. Despite Boise State’s second perfect season in three years, the team wouldn’t survive a full season in the Southeastern Conference or the Big 12 like `Bama and Texas did. The Rolling Tide and the Longhorns are the nation’s two best teams. It’s not up for discussion.

    News services have fleshed out the game’s every angle: Colt McCoy’s chance at becoming only the second player in college football history to win four games (mind you, he red-shirted in 2005 when Texas beat USC in the Rose Bowl); Mark Ingram’s somewhat controversial Heisman Trophy award; how the Texas offensive line will stop Alabama’s own 365-pound Godzilla Terrance Cody when it couldn’t keep Ndamukong Suh, listed as 60 pounds lighter than Cody, away from McCoy.

    Possibly the most interesting storyline, though, is the SEC’s complete dominance. The SEC claims four of the past five national championships and half of the national championships crowned during the BCS-era of college football. In fact, no SEC team has ever lost a BCS National Championship — they’ve got a perfect 5-0 record.

    So what the hell are they feeding their kids in the South? I want some. According to its official Web site, Alabama’s roster has only five players from non-SEC participating states. That’s some good homegrown cookin’.

    I could go on forever about the nitty-gritty, but tonight’s game will come down to three key match-ups:

    1) Texas’ Passing Game vs. Alabama’s Defense: With their quarterback as their biggest rushing threat, an inept running game has forced Texas to rely solely on its passing game. If Cody is able to bulldoze through the Longhorn offensive line like Suh did, McCoy will be pressured into another subpar Nebraska-esque showing. Linebacker Rolando McClain will likely be in charge of keeping McCoy from scrambling. As one of the most sure tacklers in the nation, it’s cake for McClain if he really is as healthy as reports suggest. But even if the Longhorn O-line can keep Saban’s clever blitz packages and Cody out of the backfield, McCoy will still have to compete with one of the best secondaries in the nation. No matter how you look at it, the Texas offense will have a difficult time putting up its 40 points per game … which leads to number two.

    2) Greg McElroy of late vs. Greg McElroy of midseason: Which one we get is anyone’s guess. The Alabama quarterback’s season has been adequate, and a stereotypical stingy SEC defense has bailed him out on more than one occasion. Should McCoy and the ‘Horns rack up points, McElroy and the Tide offense can keep pace if McElroy plays like he has recently. Many doubted he could capably fill in for former quarterback John Parker Wilson. Of late, McElroy has proved that he was worth the wait. But doubt creeps in when I recall a three-game mid-season stretch during where McElroy couldn’t find his rhythm, completing 43 of 85 passes with no touchdowns and two interceptions. If McElroy comes out trying to prove something, he could find himself back in his mid-year slump.

    3) Alabama Red Zone Defense vs. Texas Red Zone Offense: Texas rates third in the nation in red zone offense, scoring on 53 of 56 drives inside the 20-yard line. With a reliable kicker in Hunter Lawrence and McCoy at the helm, Texas has found a way to score. Problem is, it has to get there first. Alabama ranks third in total defense, averaging a measly 241.69 yards per game. And even if the Longhorns’s offense manages to sneak its way deep into Tide territory, it may encounter even stouter defense. Alabama has the second best red zone defense, allowing only eight touchdowns in 23 drives. Something has to give in the Battle of the Red Zone. The winner will likely take home the title.

    The end of the holiday season couldn’t offer a better gift: a true national championship with a high-powered offense, a shutdown defense and future pros all over the field. May the game give us everything we hoped for.

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