Thursday night, the University of Texas Longhorns go into the BCS National Championship Game as underdogs against Alabama, looking for their fifth National Title, and the second since Mack Brown took over the program.
On Saturday night, the Dallas Cowboys face what I feel has become their most hated rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, with a chance to snap a decade plus long playoff losing streak, coming in as the clear favorites after blowing them out of Cowboys Stadium six days earlier.
So when was the last time so much was at stake, in the span of 48 hours, and how do you see the games playing out?Personally, I can't help but feel like the Tide are going to struggle to maintain their energy level in the first quarter, having demolishing the Gators, then taking a month off while everyone tells them how great they are. It's the same attitude that has hurt teams like USC and Oklahoma in recent championship games. If Texas can jump out to an early lead, they have a real chance to take Ingram out of the game, though I'm not sure how much stock I put in the Longhorns number one rushing defense, since they didn't face many top running backs in the pass-happy Big 12.
If the game comes down to McCoy vs Greg McElroy, I know who I take.
If Alabama can hold the ball and get after McCoy the way Nebraska did, then Texas is in trouble.
The wild card might be the presence of Will Muschamp and Major Applewhite on the Texas staff. Both worked for Nick Saban at Alabama in recent years, and both might be able to provide valuable insight on his game plan.
My pick: Texas 24, Alabama 21, with Texas taking an early lead and withstanding the Bama comeback. Terrence Cody is not Ndamukong Suh.
The Cowboys-Eagles game has similar themes, but slightly different details.
Dallas, like Alabama, is coming off their biggest win in the last several years, apparently playing their best football at the right time, and have established themselves as the favorite in the game, if not the entire NFC. There's the temptation to say that they're fat and happy, ready to be knocked off by Philly, who has never lost it's first playoff game in the Andy Reid era, and is always a quick score or a turnover away from turning a close game into a blowout.
The key difference is the space between the games. Teams can change a lot in a month. Not so much in six days. One of the slightly unreported stories of the week seventeen game was just how often Dallas hit Philly's small receivers. DeSean Jackson got tackled by Alan Ball on a punt return, tweaking his groin, and was clearly slowed by it. On the final Eagles offensive play of the game, Jeremy Maclin had a chance to break the shutout, but never took his eyes off the safety at any point during the route. Even Brent Celek's strong first half faded as he was hit repeatedly after the catch.
Those three, plus McNabb, who was sacked four times, all made mistakes that could be attributed to physical play by Dallas, and the memories of those hits will be fresh in their minds after traveling 2600 miles back and forth in the span of five days for the rematch. That, combined with Dallas' matchup advantages on both sides of the ball, should be enough to carry the day.
As always against the Eagles, Dallas needs to limit big plays and turnovers.
Philly chose not to blitz as often in week 17 as they did in week 8, perhaps because Romo beat it several times in the first game. Whether or not they blitz more in this game is irrelevant. They simply need to make it count when they do. Get to Romo before the play can develop, and he can't beat you downfield.
My pick: Dallas 20, Philly 14. Philly does hit a few big plays, but struggles to maintain other drives and continues to have trouble against Dallas running game. Romo protects the ball as he has all season.