The best sports argument I ever saw happened at Nashville restaurant. It revolved around the 2010 BCS National Championship game involving Texas and Alabama. A friend and I were enjoying a late lunch when voices coming from across the restaurant began to get louder and louder until it was punctuated by one side screaming “IF COLT HADN’T GOTTEN HURT”
My friend and I of course knew the argument was about whether or not Texas would’ve beaten Alabama had Colt McCoy not gotten injured in the opening minutes of the game. We both laughed before then launching into our own argument about the hypothetical. (Full disclosure: I think and still believe Texas would’ve won if McCoy was healthy. My friend gave a strong “Roll Tide” to the man yelling about McCoy.)
That game, and more specifically the hit that Marcell Dareus laid on McCoy in the first quarter, changed the course of two of college football’s most important programs. The two schools have been on opposite trajectories since that hit, but news came on Wednesday that they will at least be on the same field again. The two sides announced that they would be playing a home and home series in 2022 and ’23.
Since that January night at the Rose Bowl, no program has accomplished more than Alabama nor has any program been on the receiving end of jokes more than Texas. The Crimson Tide have won four more national titles and haven’t won fewer than 11 games in a season. Texas hasn’t won more than nine games in a season and is on its third coach.
In the opening minutes of that last Texas-Alabama game, the Longhorns were driving and in the red zone, looking for the game’s first points when McCoy sprinted to his left. McCoy had nowhere to run and tried to cut back into the Alabama defense. He was meet by Dareus, who plowed right into McCoy’s shoulder. This hit looked pretty innocuous. Nothing more than a little stinger.
It ended up being the last play in McCoy’s decorated college career.
The hit to McCoy’s throwing shoulder knocked him out of the game. The Longhorns settled for a field goal on the drive but had to insert true freshman Garrett Gilbert into the game. Gilbert committed 5 turnovers in the game, including 4 interceptions. Alabama scored 24 points in the second quarter, and won the game 37-21.
McCoy is one of the best college quarterbacks of the 21st century, and was the key to that Texas offense. Naturally, Texas fans and Alabama detractors love to bring up the fact that that championship comes with an asterisk. Alabama fans will tell that while yes the game would’ve been different had McCoy ended up playing, that Alabama team was also loaded with future NFL talent, led by a Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram and Julio Jones.
McCoy’s exit didn’t just rob Texas of a potential national title, it took a potentially great national championship game away from college football fans. Texas ran an up-tempo, spread offense that was somewhat similar to the ones that would give future Alabama teams fits. McCoy wasn’t running around like Johnny Manziel, but he was more than capable of making plays with his legs. He was the ideal type of quarterback to try and beat a Saban-coached defense.
Even years after the fact, many are still passionate about what kind of role McCoy’s health would’ve played in the game. It’s only buoyed by the fact that Texas hasn’t competed for a national title since Dareus knocked McCoy out of the game. The game is reminder of close Texas was to the national title, something Longhorns fans can cling to as Texas tries to become a title contender once again.
It also isn’t fair that Alabama fans have to defend the Tide being the better team. Alabama looked like the better team for much of the game and the Crimson Tide did end up winning by double digits. It’s also worth pointing out that Alabama wouldn’t have been nearly as conservative had McCoy been healthy, as demonstrated by Alabama attempting a surprise onside kick when facing a similarly talented quarterback in Deshaun Watson in the 2016 title game.
The hypothetical McCoy argument also leads to other fun what ifs. Say McCoy doesn’t get hurt and Texas wins. Mack Brown probably still isn’t the coach at Texas, but he likely doesn’t step aside when he does, or sees Texas fall off like it has. Alabama most likely doesn’t lose three games in the following season. And if that’s the case, maybe Ingram doesn’t fumble the ball against Auburn and allow Cam Newton to stage his huge comeback and eventually lead the Tigers to a national title.
The last time these two teams met it was for a national title. Hopefully Saban still has the Alabama machine rolling and Tom Herman has turned Texas back into what was during McCoy’s time at Texas. Because fans deserve a great game between two of college football’s giants instead of a hypothetical argument to leave fans screaming at each other for years.