Cotton Bowl showcases Alabama, Texas Tech

Updated: December 5, 2005, 2:01 AM ET
Associated Press

DALLAS -- Alabama's stingy defense hasn't seen an offense as wild or as successful as Texas Tech's -- and that's exactly why both teams are headed for the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

With the No. 18 Red Raiders an obvious pick from the Big 12, game officials could've made No. 10 LSU their SEC selection. The Tigers would've offered more of a regional rivalry and a higher-ranked team.

Instead, they took No. 13 Alabama, largely for the chance to promote the Jan. 2 game as a matchup of strength vs. strength: The defense that gives up the fewest points in the country against the offense that throws for the most yards.

"That was a part of it, a big part, because that gives the bowl game a special angle that not many other bowl games have this year," said Dan Petty, chairman of the selection committee.

The teams are so good at what they do that the Cotton Bowl could be hyped like a heavyweight fight, with "Something's Gotta Give" a fitting moniker.

Alabama (9-2) allows 10.7 points per game, more than a point better than anyone else. The Tide give up the second-fewest total yards (248.3) and the second-fewest yards passing (154.8).

Tech (9-2) throws for 403.6 yards per game, almost 20 better than anyone else. The Red Raiders also average 511 yards per game, second only to top-ranked Southern California, while scoring 42.1 points per game, fourth-best in the country.

"We know we're in for a tough one, maybe the toughest one all year," Alabama coach Mike Shula said.

He wasn't just being nice. The Tide's two losses were to teams that threw for the most yards and scored the most points of all its foes -- and Tech throws for 177.3 more yards than LSU and scores 7.9 more points than Auburn. Alabama was 9-0 and ranked No. 4 until closing the season with those consecutive defeats.

Shula said his team has faced offenses with styles similar to Tech's, but none that run it as effectively.

For Alabama, no matter how much film players watch, it'll be tough preparing for a dizzying system filled with quick passes to all sorts of receivers running all sorts of routes.

"We'll be out there and running their plays, but there's no way we can simulate their efficiency and speed," Shula said.

Shula said that instead of using a scout team to run Tech's plays against his defense, he may go with his first-team offense "just for the speed, as far as getting the ball out, the route-running and all of that."

The Red Raiders have been using the same system since coach Mike Leach took over six years ago. He's got it so refined that he's plugged in a new starting quarterback each of the last three seasons without missing a beat.

Cody Hodges, a fifth-year senior, took over this season and won his first six games. After a loss to No. 2 Texas, the Red Raiders were 8-1 and a fringe candidate for a BCS berth until losing to Oklahoma State. They rebounded the next week to beat Oklahoma in what was widely viewed as a Cotton Bowl play-in game.

The reward is Tech's first New Year's Day in Dallas since 1995. The Red Raiders are thrilled because of what it means for recruiting, alumni and the large number of players who are from the area.

"In a way, it will feel like a home game," Hodges said.

Game officials are counting on Alabama being a big draw, too, or else they would've gone with LSU. After all, Baton Rouge is a lot closer to Dallas than Tuscaloosa.

Tide fans came out strong for last year's bowl appearance in Nashville, Tenn., which was Alabama's first bowl game under Shula. Returning to the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 1982 could be a lure, too. Athletic director Mal Moore said he planned to "convey to [fans] to show up and support" the program.

Alabama has played and won more bowl games than any program. This trip to the Cotton Bowl will be its seventh, the most by a team that wasn't in the Southwest Conference.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press