NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — If No. 2 Texas is going to take the BCS national title back to Austin, Colt McCoy may well have to carry the Longhorns to victory Vince Young-style. Top-ranked Alabama simply needs Greg McElroy to avoid losing the championship with critical mistakes.
The All-American against the Game Manager.
Four-year starter vs. first-year starter.
This may be the era of Tim Tebow in college football, but it will end with either McCoy or McElroy leaving the Rose Bowl with a career-defining victory.
Other than Texas roots, winning is the one thing McElroy and McCoy have in common.
No college quarterback has won more games as a starter than McCoy. His total stands at 45. McElroy, meanwhile, hasn’t lost a game he has started in high school or college — though he had to wait to get the ball in his hands.
Patience has defined his career. At Texas powerhouse Southlake Carroll High School in the Dallas/Fort Worth-area, he backed up future Missouri star and Heisman Trophy finalist Chase Daniel until his senior year.
With just one season to impress recruiters, he made the most of it, throwing a state-record 56 touchdown passes and leading his team to a 16-0 record and a championship.
When Alabama finished second to Florida in the Tebow recruiting sweepstakes in 2006, McElroy was the Tide’s fallback plan.
Then it was back to waiting, watching and learning.
He redshirted as a freshman, then spent two seasons backing up John Parker Wilson.
“Anything you want to do that means a lot to you is worth waiting for. I think as a player I was able to learn from the people around me,” McElroy said Tuesday during media day for the BCS championship game. “Waiting for your turn makes you appreciate it more. It makes you honored to be in that situation.”
Alabama came into this season with championship hopes, but fans were concerned a new quarterback would keep the talented Tide from winning its first national title since 1992.
McElroy’s teammates and coaches weren’t worried. They knew that while every backup says they prepare like a starter, their new quarterback actually did.
“When he was the understudy, he truly studied,” offensive coordinator Jim McElwain said. “He used that time to prepare himself.”
McElroy started the year strong but hit a rough patch around midseason where he went three games without throwing a touchdown pass.
“I think in Greg’s case what happened was more of an offensive unit problem and he ended up forcing things a little too much instead of letting the game kind of come to him and play to his strengths,” McElwain said.
McElroy righted himself, re-embraced his role in Alabama’s run-first offense, and finished the season with his best two games. Against Auburn and in the Southeastern Conference title game against Florida, he passed for 457 yards and three touchdowns and did not throw an interception.
“I’m going to be more successful being more of a game-manager as opposed to a game-breaker,” he said.
Without the fanfare and flash of some of the previous great quarterbacks to wear No. 12 at Alabama, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler among them, McElroy has a chance to go down in Tide history by guiding the program to another national title.
What McCoy had to manage this season was hype, and the pressure that comes with being one of the biggest football stars in Texas’ glorious history.
“It is tough, it wears on you if you let it,” he said.
But it wasn’t so much the expectations of Longhorns fans, which could not have been much higher with their team entering the season No. 2 in the nation, that wore on McCoy.
No, what the small-town kid from West Texas battled this season was the pressure of trying to live up to his own lofty standards. In 2008, McCoy completed an NCAA-record 77 percent of his passes and was the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
“In his mind he said ‘I’ll come back and improve on that figure that no one has ever touched,'” Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. “I think he would tell you what was wrong until about midseason was he wasn’t having as much fun.”
Once McCoy loosened up, he and the Texas offense started rolling.
He ended up completing 70 percent of his passes this season, for 3,512 yards and 27 touchdowns. He was a Heisman finalist again, though this time he finished third in the voting.
As great as he has been, McCoy has fallen short of reaching the superstar status of Tebow, despite similar qualities on and off the field.
“He is everything good about college football,” Davis said about McCoy. “Two mission trips. He doesn’t drink carbonated water. He comes to the house and we have to buy extra milk.”
With a national championship on his resume, there will be no questioning McCoy’s legacy as one of college football’s greatest quarterbacks.
And unlike Alabama, which can lean on a powerful running game led by Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram if McElroy is spotty, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Texas beats the Tide while McCoy has an off night.
The Longhorns have struggled to run the ball consistently all season. McCoy is the team’s second-leading rusher.
The last time Texas won a national title, McCoy was a redshirting freshman. He watched from the sidelines as Young played one the greatest games in college football history and Texas beat USC 41-38 in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
Before Young led the game-winning drive, he nudged McCoy and told him to watch carefully because one day he would be in that spot.
Now McCoy’s chance has come — and it will be his last chance.
“You want to play for the national championship,” he said. “That was our goal. That was our dream. Now we’re realizing our dream could actually become a reality.”