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Alabama and Texas: two red state teams meet in Pasadena tonight.
PASADENA, Calif. — College football expert Stacey Mickles yesterday offered a bold prediction for tonight’s BCS finale — a repeat of top-ranked Alabama’s 32-13 victory in the Southeastern Conference title game, which brought Florida QB Tim Tebow to tears.
“If we can make Tebow cry, we can make anybody cry,” said Mickles, a Crimson Tide fan and Army sergeant currently stationed at Fort Dietrich, Maryland, who was in town for the game with her boyfriend and fellow soldier Richard McAlpin.
Some may doubt Sgt. Mickle’s expertise, but none of the doubters were wearing crimson and white yesterday outside the stadium in Pasadena where ‘Bama hasn’t played in January since 1946. The year after that game — in which the Tide crushed USC 34-14 — the Rose Bowl committee reached an agreement that the annual event would match champions of the two conferences now known as the Pac-10 and the Big Ten.
The decision to match the best teams from the West Coast and the Midwest ended the proud boast of Alabama’s fight song, “Remember the Rose Bowl we’ll win.” The game tonight (8 p.m. ET, ABC) will therefore not be the Rose Bowl — eighth-ranked Ohio State won that game 26-17 over No. 7 Oregon last week — but Tide fans outside the stadium didn’t care. Neither did fans of the No. 2 Texas Longhorns, who were unperturbed by the fact that ‘Bama is a four-point favorite to win the collegiate football championship.
“We wish y’all luck tomorrow — just not too much luck,” Texas attorney Ron Dickens told a Crimson Tide fan yesterday outside the stadium shortly after the ‘Horns arrived for their pre-game walk-through.
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy may not be in tears when tonight’s game ends, but like Alabama fans, the Longhorns didn’t come this far to lose — not even to a team whose star running back Mark Ingram just collected the first Heisman Trophy in Crimson Tide history. Ask any Texas fan and they’ll remind you that four years ago the USC Trojans — led by Heisman winner Reggie Bush — were defeated 41-38 by the boys in burnt orange right here in Pasadena.
“Hook ‘Em Horns,” the Texans yelled yesterday as their team debarked from buses outside the Rose Bowl and walked through the famed gate beneath the palm trees in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The universal hand-signal of Longhorns fans is indistinguishable from the satanic symbol commonly displayed by heavy-metal rockers, but it is Alabama head coach Nick Saban — a.k.a., “Coach Satan” to his enemies — who is arguably the most demonized figure in college football.
Saban was hired away from SEC rival LSU three years ago, coming to Tuscaloosa for a record $4 million a year. As USA Today reported earlier this week, an NCAA study found no correlation between a team’s record and the head coach’s salary, but Saban’s 25-2 record the past two seasons has contradicted that statistical trend.
Among Saban’s admirers is Texas head coach Mack Brown. “I really admire what Nick has done,” Brown said yesterday at his final pre-game press conference. Saban’s teams are “very disciplined…he wins at everything he touches,” the Longhorn coach said.
A Tennessee native, Brown himself was a youthful admirer of the Crimson Tide’s most legendary coach. “I grew up… loving Coach Bryant and Alabama and the tradition. There’s so much passion in the South,” Brown said yesterday.
Texas has four national championships to its credit and Alabama has 12, but the Tide may be hungrier for the BCS title, because ‘Bama hasn’t won the No. 1 spot in college football since defeating Miami in the 1993 Sugar Bowl.
Both squads that will take the field in Pasadena tonight are from states where football is more serious than… well, almost anything. Alabama and Texas are both part of the Bible Belt, but if evangelical Protestantism is the region’s leading religion, college football is certainly not far behind.
Which brings us back to Sgt. Mickle. Her expertise might not yet be nationally famous, but as she stood outside the Rose Bowl one day before the biggest game of the season, her guess about the final outcome was as good as anyone’s, including University of Alabama undergrad Tyler Anderson.
“34-17 Alabama,” predicted Anderson, who was hanging out with friends in front of the stadium. Like every other fan in town, the history and political science major from Huntsville was impatient for that moment when predictions give way to the final conflict.
“I’m ready for the game,” said Anderson.
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