- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- On their first full day in Southern California, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Texas worked hard early in the day, then broke away to have fun. Each team spent a few hours at Disneyland, enjoying the rides and the game room inside ESPN Zone.
For these teams, the object of being here is to have fun on their last full day, Thursday, when they face each other in the Citi BCS National Championship Game (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The analysts say the winner will be the Crimson Tide, who played a tougher schedule and finished on a stronger note than the Longhorns.
The manner in which Texas struggled to subdue the Nebraska Cornhuskers 13-12 in the Big 12 championship game shifted opinion in favor of the Crimson Tide. You think Texas coach Mack Brown might use that as motivation? Does Bevo have long horns?
"Our guys are understanding that a lot of people don't think that we'll win the game on Thursday night," Brown said at a news conference Saturday. "We understand that. We didn't have great momentum coming out of the season, and Alabama did, so give them credit."
Brown neglected to mention that those same Huskers punished Arizona 33-0 in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, so maybe Texas isn't so bad.
Alabama has gone 25-2 in the past two seasons, the most successful stretch in coach Nick Saban's career. In those same two seasons, Texas is 25-1.
Everywhere the Longhorns turn, they see the glorification of the Crimson Tide. Three Texas players made The Associated Press All-America team. Six Alabama players made it, the most from one school since the AP began selecting a two-platoon team in 1964.
"I don't know if people telling you every day that you're not good enough is advantageous," Brown demurred. " What we've tried to do is figure out the team that creates the best edge against two really good units in a game with two really good football teams is the one that usually wins. Last year we were very disappointed that we didn't get to play in the conference championship or the national championship. It was very difficult to create an edge."
Texas struggled through portions of the 2009 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and trailed late in the fourth quarter. The Longhorns rallied to score a touchdown with 16 seconds left to defeat Ohio State 24-21.
Saban is not without a few motivational ploys of his own. The Crimson Tide will play for their first national championship since 1992 after defeating then-No. 1 Florida 32-13 in the SEC championship game. Alabama played its best game of the year. Given the quality of the Gators, it might have been the best game any Alabama team has played in many years.
Saban wants to make sure his team didn't play its best game one game too soon.
"I told our players a story the other day about the U.S. hockey team," Saban said Saturday. "Probably one of the greatest victories of this century by any team was when they beat the Soviets in '80 or whenever it was, the Miracle on Ice. Do you know what people don't remember? That they didn't win the gold medal [in that game]."
The American team defeated Finland two days later to win the gold.
The 2009 bowl season already has provided moments that will linger long after the confetti flies Thursday night. Idaho and Bowling Green squeezing every last point out of every last second; Florida quarterback Tim Tebow providing college football fans with one more indelible memory; and on Saturday, feeling the pain of East Carolina kicker Ben Hartman, who narrowly missed two field goals in the last 1:03 of regulation and one in overtime.
Still, the anticipation of the matchup of Texas and Alabama in the Rose Bowl builds. So much is expected because both programs have a habit of providing. Their fans support them with a passion almost religious in nature.
Believers in both teams already have begun to arrive in Southern California. They are looking for fun, but they also are looking for deliverance. The crimson faithful and the burnt-orange faithful each want a crystal football delivered to their respective campus.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
3dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna