- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Colt McCoy sees the perfect symmetry of his college career.
He concluded his redshirt season watching Texas claim the national championship over USC. And he's back four years later trying to earn his own title to cap a brilliant, record-breaking career.
"It's pretty neat how it's all worked out," McCoy said. "We've all worked pretty hard to get to this point. The Rose Bowl is the same point we started as freshmen. And that's pretty cool."
But to get to his chance at Longhorn immortality Thursday night (ABC, 8 ET) against Alabama in the Citi BCS National Championship Game, McCoy has persevered through a difficult senior season that might have been judged a disappointment in some circles.
He started the season as one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy after finishing second in 2008. The Longhorns are 13-0, but McCoy has battled through some well-chronicled bouts of uncertainty when he was trying to be "too perfect" in his direction of the team.
The Longhorns persisted in difficult victories against Oklahoma and Nebraska in which McCoy admittedly didn't play his best. But the Longhorns did what they needed to do to win with their senior quarterback leading them.
"This year, it's been a challenge to win 13 games," McCoy said. "To do it the way we did, to go from really shaky now and then to be good and then be shaky and then good has kind of taken a toll on us.
"But when you look at the grand scheme of things, it's still been a special ride."
That journey culminates against the Crimson Tide -- a test he calls the most severe challenge of his four-season playing career.
"I've had 13 games to trust my teammates, trust my coaches, trust myself," McCoy said. "The Alabama defense will be the best we've faced. After watching them on film, I truly expect them to be the best defense I've faced in four years here. So you've got to go out there, trust each other and play your best."
Those thoughts have led McCoy to constantly think about the challenges he'll be facing in California.
"You know, I go to bed dreaming about this game," McCoy said. "It's going to be fun."
The national championship game will give him a chance to blot away painful memories of his previous outing.
Nebraska humbled McCoy, sacking him nine times and intercepting him three times. But he still had enough resilience to lead the Longhorns' rally that culminated in his first Big 12 title.
The Longhorns clearly have some work to do to get ready for an Alabama defense dotted with All-Americans like Javier Arenas, Terrence Cody and Rolando McClain. There's no doubt that Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart detected that Nebraska's blitzing defense exposed Texas' offensive line as the team's weakest link.
But having a month to prepare has given the Longhorns a sense of urgency about improving against the Tide.
"We haven't played the best game that we can play all year. It hasn't even been close," McCoy said. "Offense, defense, special teams haven't played where we are all playing at a high level. That's still out there, and it's what we expect to do on Thursday night."
It's not as if McCoy's senior season has been a bust. He's thrown for 3,512 yards, which is the second-highest total in school history. (McCoy threw for 3,859 yards in 2008.) He won his second Walter Camp Award to add to the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, the Davey O'Brien Award and the Maxwell Award in his collection. But Thursday will provide him with bigger goals than those individual baubles.
"I've got bigger and better things to play for," he said.
He's come a long way from his roots in tiny Tuscola, Texas, to become one of the most productive quarterbacks in college football history. He owns a 45-7 record, the most victories in major-college football history. He has thrown for 13,244 yards and 112 touchdown passes while completing 70.3 percent of his passes.
Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis remembers at an early meeting in McCoy's freshman season how much confidence McCoy had.
"He came in at about 175 pounds at one of our first meetings and said he wanted to be the best I've ever coached," Davis said. "And I'm thinking, 'Yeah, right, I've got Pee-wee Herman here.'"
But McCoy's work ethic and determination have marked his own "Big Adventure" in going from those humble roots to becoming one of the most storied players in Texas football history.
"When we left the meeting this morning, he asked me if he could get a key to the room so he could come back and watch more film on his own," Davis said. "That's the way he's always carried himself. When I was growing up, you might have called him a gym rat."
That dedication to hard work has prepared McCoy to the task at hand -- especially after some of the earlier struggles this season.
"It's hard to win 13 games, especially in our conference," McCoy said. "We've played under a lot of pressure and stress all year long. Everywhere you went outside of our facility, the fans, the media and the people around the school thought it was locked up and it was a cinch we were in the national championship. But it's not that easy.
"At this point, we're here, we're happy and we're excited. We've worked really hard, but we're going to go out and have fun and enjoy what we've worked for the last year."
Tim Griffin covers college football for ESPN.com. You may contact him at email@example.com.
Colt McCoy experienced some ups and downs this season, but the Texas QB has navigated the Horns to the brink of the ultimate thrill ride.