Freshman would likely get nod if McElroy gets hurt

Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 4:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 4:36 p.m.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Who will step in if Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy goes down? Coach Nick Saban said he's "pretty certain" it would be freshman A.J. McCarron, who hasn't taken a college snap and is in line for a redshirt year.

Redshirt freshman Star Jackson has handled the mop-up duty in blowouts, playing in five games and going 13-of-18 passing for 116 yards without a touchdown or interception. But McCarron passed him up during the bye week after the Oct. 24 game with Tennessee.

Saban said a national title would be worth a player losing a year of eligibility, if it comes down to that.

"It's been our plan that if we had to play him, then we'll play the guy that gives us the best opportunity to win the game and that's what we would do," Saban said. "Star Jackson is also an option for us. We've gotten this far. I think in fairness to everyone, we'd put the guy in the game that would give us the best opportunity to win."

McCarron is a 6-foot-4, 190-pounder who passed for 6,066 yards and 66 touchdowns with just nine interceptions as a three-year starter at Saint Paul's in Mobile, Ala.

FAMOUS ALUMS: Former Texas running back Priest Holmes was so impressed by this year's Longhorns team that he was willing to help his brother move across the country.

Holmes' brother was taking a moving van to Los Angeles this week, so he offered to go along for the ride just to be in the area for the national championship game. He told some school officials he was going to be here and they arranged for him to be a guest speaker at practice Tuesday.

Holmes told the Longhorns that watching them from afar he could tell what great chemistry they have.

Although Holmes didn't have tickets when he headed to California, the team has taken care of that. The Longhorns are expecting 26 alums who've played in the NFL to be at the game — including Vince Young, the star of the 2005 and '06 Rose Bowl victories.

Young, former Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams and Michael Huff, the defensive MVP of the '06 game, are the only ones likely to be on the sideline.

"It's fun to have them back," coach Mack Brown said of all the NFL players.

HAPPY RETURNS: Punts and kickoffs won't be a good time for a bathroom break or snack run. Both Alabama and Texas have dangerous return men.

The Tide's Javier Arenas needs 29 yards to break Wes Welker's NCAA record for career punt return yards (1,761) and already owns the SEC mark with seven punts returned for touchdowns. That's one shy of the NCAA standard shared by Welker and Oklahoma's Antonio Perkins.

Texas counters with three dangerous return men. Punt returner Jordan Shipley has two touchdowns on returns this season, while D.J. Monroe (two) and Marquise Goodwin (one) both have taken kicks the distance.

"They're probably as good as anybody that we've played against" in both areas, Saban said. "As a punt returner, Shipley is really a good decision maker, good quickness. He can make the first guy miss."

On kick returns, "They have tremendous speed in both of their return guys. If you give these guys a seam, they're going to get off to the races and it's going to be pretty hard to sort of manage that."

Kick coverage has at times been one of Alabama's few weak points. The Tide gave up two long returns for touchdowns early in the season, but has been less vulnerable lately.

Brown figures the strengths of the defenses could make big returns even more important. The Longhorns lead the nation with a school-record 11 non-offensive touchdowns.

"You never know in a game like this what's going to turn the game around," Brown said.

MACK THE MOTIVATOR: Before Texas played Southern Cal in the 2006 Rose Bowl, Brown found the inspiration for his pregame speech from — of all places — "The Jerry Springer Show."

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, he talked about the challenge of providing those words of wisdom.

"I'll have 122 sets of eyes looking at me, an entire staff looking at me tomorrow afternoon at about 2:00 wanting me to put some sense into how important this game is," he said. "What can you say in a five-minute period to relax them and make sure they're focused when they've had a month and two days to prepare for this?"

He also seemed to use Wednesday's news conference as a chance to test out his message.

"'I want you focused, I want you tough, I want you ready to play, but I want you to have fun' — which gets really contradictory when they're looking at you," he said. "'Is it important, Coach? Yeah, it's the National Championship. You're the best at what you do in the country, and you've got three and a half hours to prove it. You want to respect Alabama, but you don't want to have your team where they're not sure that they think you think they can win, because they have to know myself and our coaches think we can win.' So all of those things go through your mind."

NFL? NO THANKS: Alabama's Nick Saban has coached in the NFL several times, including as a head coach. Now he's back in college football, perhaps to stay.

Brown has never made the leap, and probably never will.

"At one time it was compelling," he said Wednesday. "If I coached somewhere else, I'd have to be in complete control, and I think that's what you get in college football. You get to make the decisions within the structure of your athletic director and your president."

He also prefers college kids answering to him out of loyalty to trying to get multimillionaires to answer to him.

"I also was told one time that don't ever coach a player that you can't buy a house in his neighborhood, and that makes sense," he said. "I've heard the Joe Namath stories where Dan Henning was coaching him and Dan jumped on Joe, and the head coach said, 'OK, now, we've sold all these tickets, are they coming to see you or him.' So I do understand it's different."

TV TALK: The BCS moves to ESPN next season, but it has already said goodbye to Fox after four years with that network.

Because the Rose Bowl has a separate TV deal from the rest of the BCS games, ABC will broadcast Thursday night's BCS title game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Texas.

ESPN paid $125 million for the TV rights to the Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls, as well as the BCS title games, from 2011-14. ABC will continue to be the home of the Rose Bowl during that time.

Fox's BCS deal ran from 2007-10 and was worth $80 million.

ESPN runs ABC Sports, so for that network, this season's game is in a way the first of a new era for the BCS on TV.

"To be able to have two games this year through our good friends at the Pasadena Tournament of Roses in the Rose Bowl game and the championship game here in California is special for us to ... get a jump-start on our full new BCS relationship next year," said Burke Magnus, ESPN senior vice president for college sports programming.

Brent Musberger will handle play-by-play for the game Thursday night, with Kirk Herbstreit doing analysis.

Dave Miller, senior coordinating producer for sports programming at ESPN, said 30 cameras will be used for the BCS championship game.

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