Alabama is a fantastic national champ. Let's just say that right off the bat -- the running game is as good as any I've seen in the BCS era, and the D was terrific. They throttled Florida and they moved the ball on a Texas D that didn't have the excuse of missing its QB.
And while their title isn't asterisked in the least, it will always be accompanied by two qualifiers:
(1) "Not to take anything away from Alabama..."
This allows the speaker to both acknowledge Alabama's worthiness as a champ, but then proceed to qualify their worthiness as a champ.
(2) "...but if Colt McCoy had played..."
Aha! The great unknowable. What we have is the tiny sample size of McCoy's plays in the game, which seemed -- again, tiny sample size -- to be on the verge of out-playing Bama's D and, perhaps, leading Texas to the upset win.
Can you remember a championship game where the takeaway storyline was about the losing team? Maybe Miami against Ohio State in the 2002 season. Or about the losing player?
But short of this being the start of an Alabama dynasty -- and it very well could be -- when we look back in 1/5/10/20 years, we'll mainly remember "But if Colt McCoy had played..."
You can bet it will be legend among Texas fans, who will go down to their last days swearing that "if only McCoy had played," Texas would have won the game. Other fans, too.
(Despite Gilbert's struggles, he played admirably -- astoundingly, he nearly pulled it off. Blame Texas' coaches, not just for that awful decision at the end of the 1st half, but for choking on their own panic in Gilbert's first half-dozen series. Hope Texas fans recognize that from their $6 million coach.)
But Alabama fans are the only ones who get to say, definitively -- no "if" or "but" -- that they are the national champs of the 2009 season.
My End-of-Season BlogPoll Top 10:
2. Boise St
(And I was very conflicted about not putting Florida ahead of Texas, for a lot of reasons.)
6. Ohio State
(I will probably end up flip-flopping Oregon and Iowa.)
9. Penn State
(I will probably end up flip-flopping Cincy and Penn St -- do we count Cincy as they finished the season, or being coached by Brian Kelly? I'm going to assume the latter -- body of work.)
As for next year, I think you have to install Alabama as the team to beat, but I've already laid out my scenario:
Alabama will finish the regular season unbeaten, including a signature win over Florida; then, Florida will come back and stun Alabama in the SEC title game. Meanwhile, Boise State and TCU will both finish unbeaten, with Boise earning a BCS bid because they beat TCU head to head earlier this week. Ohio State will be the only BCS-conference team that goes unbeaten. Boise will beat Ohio State in the national title game; the SEC will freak out.
(Of course, that theory falls apart if unbeaten Boise, with a win over a very very good TCU team, can't even crack the top 3 -- let alone the Top 2 -- in the final polls this season. The pollsters -- coaches and media alike -- will always favor the big-conference teams at the top.)
Check out the complete SN column here.