McCoy's role key in title-game drama
PASADENA, Calif. -- With the crystal football very much up for grabs in the final minutes of the 2006 Rose Bowl game, Texas quarterback Vince Young spoke prophetically to the baby-faced redshirt next to him on the Rose Bowl sideline.
"This is pretty special," Young told Colt McCoy. "You'll be here someday."
Moments later, Young went out and drove the Longhorns to the 2005 national title and himself into college football immortality. Four years later, here is McCoy, positioned to do what Young envisioned.
"It's pretty crazy how it's all worked out," McCoy allowed Tuesday.
Since then, McCoy has gone on to quarterback more victories than any other player in major college football history. Thursday night (ABC, 8 ET), in the same stadium and in a similar underdog scenario, McCoy will try to win one more -- try to pull a Vince and lead the Horns to another title.
He probably will not be called upon to produce 467 yards of total offense the way Young did against USC, but his task is more difficult than Vince's.
USC was a brilliant offensive machine in 2005, but its defense was only OK. McCoy is facing an Alabama unit that finished the regular season first in the nation in scoring defense (11 points per game) and second in total defense (241.7 yards per game).
Alabama's defense is not only large, fast and nasty but also complex and confusing. Nick Saban's D is adept at changing looks and disguising coverages and blitzes, embodying the unpredictability he desires.
"It's like pitching in baseball," Saban said. "If you've got one pitch, and it's a really good pitch, eventually guys hit it. You've got to mix it up, be a guy who has three or four pitches, changes speeds, locations."
Several Alabama defenders noted, with what seemed like subtle relish, that McCoy does not change the play much at the line of scrimmage. In turn, McCoy noted the inscrutability of the Tide's defensive looks.
"I'm sick of watching film," he said. "Every time you turn on the film, they get better. They're confusing, to be honest. You never know where they're coming from, play to play.
"Being able to handle their blitzes and pressures is going to be the key to the game."
He's right. And that makes McCoy the central figure in this appealing drama, the player with more responsibility heaped on his shoulder pads than any other. No disrespect to Mark Ingram, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back of the Crimson Tide, but McCoy is the leading actor in this game because of all he is asked to do.
He must make the right reads of the Crimson Tide defense, before the snap and once the play begins. He must find the right hot receivers when Alabama brings blitzes from different angles. He must make plays with his feet when the opportunity presents itself. He must be accurate throwing into what should be the tightest coverage he has seen this year. He must be, in varying turns, poised and patient, aggressive and bold.
Basically, for Texas to beat Alabama, McCoy must be the best player on the field.
And the Longhorns are willing to ride or die with the coach's son from Tuscola, Texas.
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis has been coaching for 37 years. He listed some of the best and brightest quarterbacks he has had: Gary Kubiak at Texas A&M, Major Applewhite and Young at Texas. Kubiak is an NFL head coach, and Applewhite is on the Longhorns staff.
But Davis declared McCoy to be the best QB he has ever had at reading defenses.
"Without a doubt," Davis said. "That's with due respect to all the others. He probably is not going to coach, but I wish he would. He's got the mind for it."
Yet even if the mind is willing, the flesh has been weak at times this season. Against the two best defenses he has faced, Oklahoma and Nebraska, McCoy wasn't very effective.
He threw three interceptions against the Cornhuskers while taking a fearsome beating from the Nebraska pass rush. Against the Sooners, he had a pick and a fumble and threw for just 127 yards.
Now comes a defense at least the equal of those two.
Recent history also shows that SEC defenses have administered thorough maulings of opposing quarterbacks in the BCS title game. Florida was all over Ohio State's Troy Smith in 2007; LSU was similarly merciless to Ohio State's Todd Boeckman the next year; and Florida frustrated Oklahoma's Sam Bradford repeatedly last year.
Bradford had his lowest passer rating of 2008 against the Gators, and it was the only game in which he did not throw more touchdowns (two) than interceptions (two). Boeckman was sacked a season-high five times and threw for just 208 yards against the Tigers. And Smith was basically force-fed his Heisman by the Florida pass rush in '06, limited to a shocking four completions, 35 yards passing and minus-29 yards rushing.
If 2006-08 title-game history repeats, McCoy and Texas are in big trouble.
But if 2005 title-game history repeats, Colt McCoy will step into the role of Vince Young and do something dramatic -- and triumphant -- Thursday night in the Rose Bowl.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.