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BCS National Championship preview

Who’s No. 1? Key matchups will decide the big game. National Football Post

Print This January 07, 2010, 03:15 PM EST
Bunting, Fortenbaugh and Bowen discuss tonight's National Championship game.

BCS National Championship
Alabama vs. Texas
Tonight, 8 p.m. EST, ABC

What to watch for:

Top NFL prospects do battle in the slot

Texas WR Jordan Shipley vs. Alabama CB Javier Arenas

Texas wideout Jordan Shipley makes his living in the slot. He displays a real feel for the pass game, does a great job selling his routes and possesses the short-area quickness to win most matchups when he’s given a two-way go. However, as I’ve discussed in the past, Shipley isn’t a physical or shifty athlete off the line and will struggle to beat press coverage when lined up on the outside. But the Texas coaching staff, for the most part, has done a great job hiding him in the slot and keeping him away from opposing defenses’ top cornerbacks. That’s why Shipley’s matchup with Alabama’s “do-it-all” cornerback, Javier Arenas, is going to make for an interesting battle tonight.

Arenas is one of my favorite prospects in this year’s draft. He has the ability to play both on the outside and in the slot, can press, play off-coverage and zone, as well as tackle in space and be a factor in the return game. Simply put, the guy is a good all-around football player. Arenas is likely the best overall corner Shipley will face this season from the slot, as Arenas not only has experience playing inside but can be physical off the line and redirects well out of his breaks. He’s the kind of corner Shipley is going to need to beat on a consistent basis when lined up inside at the next level, and this matchup will be a great measuring stick to determine just how effective he can be in the NFL.

Can they hold up inside?

I haven’t been a fan of the Texas offensive line. Left tackle Adam Ulatoski is a limited athlete who lacks range/fluidity off the edge, and center Chris Hall and guard Charlie Tanner have struggled to hold up vs. any kind of legitimate NFL-caliber talent. So it will be interesting to see how the Longhorns handle the Alabama defensive front inside. Now, so much has been made about Alabama’s 6-5, 365-pound nose tackle, Terrence Cody, however, Cody doesn’t rush the passer and isn’t a guy who can make plays in space. And with Texas consistently spreading the field and throwing the ball, I don’t think it’s Cody who’s going to have a big impact in this game.

The guy who needs to be accounted for inside on passing downs is sophomore defensive lineman Marcell Dareus. Dareus is a thick 6-3, 280-pound athlete who exhibits an impressive initial burst off the ball and a powerful punch on contact. He consistently showcases an ability to bull his way into the backfield and is a good enough athlete to shed on contact and close on the football. He’s one prospect who really jumped out on tape this season on the Alabama defense and is a guy who has the ability to cause problems for Texas on passing downs.

Help your cause, Colt

Texas QB Colt McCoy couldn’t have asked for a better stage to silence his critics (including me) and the have the type of performance needed to boost his draft stock. Make no mistake, McCoy is a talented passer. He’s a good athlete. And above all, he’s a winner. However, what worries me most about McCoy in the pass game isn’t his average arm strength or even his occasional shabby footwork. It’s his ability to be decisive in the pocket, keep his eyes downfield and accurately deliver the ball in the face of pressure. Those are things I have yet to see from him vs. a formidable opponent this season.

Too often, he makes up his mind before the snap, stares down his target and, as soon as he feels pressure up the gut, looks down and fails to find his second/third options. He does a nice job creating with his legs and has the ability to break containment and accurately distribute the football down the field, but in tonight’s game, you can bet he’s going to see a lot of blitzes from linebackers through the A-gaps and pressure up the gut -- and with four-plus weeks to prepare, how he handles the inside rush could either drastically help/hurt his draft stock.

Stack and shed

We know the Alabama offense is going to want to play power football and try to impose its will on the Texas front seven. But one guy who’s going to need to have a big game is Texas middle linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy. The question is: Does he have the ability to hold up inside vs. the Crimson Tide downhill run game? Muckelroy is a gifted straight-line athlete who displays the range to run sideline to sideline and make plays in pursuit. Yet when watching him on tape, I don’t think he’s the most gifted of lateral athletes and doesn’t exhibit ideal stack-and-shed ability on contact. He’s done well this season vs. the more “finesse” offenses of the Big 12, but this is a great test to see if he has what it takes to make plays vs. the big boys inside the box.

The Eraser

If the Longhorns are going to have a chance to win tonight, the defense needs to create turnovers and give its offense friendly field position. And if there’s one guy who can ball-hawk and make plays in the Texas secondary, it’s safety Earl Thomas. Thomas possesses a unique blend of instincts, fluidity and range in coverage and does a great job tracking the throw and coming down with the ball. He’s a bit undersized at 5-10, 197, but he has a nose for the pass game and is going to need to be a difference-maker if the Longhorns are to end the season No. 1.

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