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Four matchups that could turn the title game

1/7/2010

You know who the top NFL prospects in the Citi BCS National Championship Game are, but what should you watch for when Alabama and Texas take the field?

Four matchups in particular will test the mettle of some of the highest-rated prospects in the game, including two that pit skill players against standout linebackers and two others that could turn the game in the special teams phase.

Here's how Scouts Inc. sees those matchups playing out:

Texas QB Colt McCoy vs. Alabama MLB Rolando McClain

McClain could be a top 15 pick if he decides to skip his senior season and enter the 2010 draft and he should make things tough for McCoy, who projects as a second-rounder. Though McClain doesn't have great range or man-to-man cover skills he does get good depth in his zone drops and shows above-average awareness in zone coverage, and McClain should help limit the effectiveness of the short-to-intermediate passing game the Longhorns rely on so heavily. That's a problem because McCoy doesn't show the same touch and accuracy on deep passes as he does throwing underneath.

Alabama will also blitz McClain at times. He makes up for his lack of ideal closing speed with power and timing so McClain is capable of forcing McCoy to get rid of the ball quickly. Don't expect McCoy to have much success running the ball, either. The instinctive McClain is a sound open-field tackler who does a god job of sniffing out quarterback keepers and will step up when he sees McCoy start to scramble.

Alabama RB Mark Ingram vs. Texas MLB Rod Muckelroy

Much like McClain, Muckelroy reads his keys, locates the ball and doesn't miss many tackles. However, one of the reasons he projects as no higher than an early third-round pick is that he isn't as effective as McClain in phone booth situations. Muckelroy is not as stout at the point of attack and takes longer to shed blocks, though it's not for a lack of toughness or effort. He is simply a bit undersized for a middle linebacker and looks like a better fit on the outside in the NFL.

Ingram, on the other hand, is a powerful downhill runner who quickly locates seams between the tackles and explodes upfield as soon as he sees daylight. Muckelroy can't afford to lose track of Ingram when Alabama drops back to pass, either, because Ingram has sound hands and is dangerous after the catch.

Alabama PR Javier Arenas vs. the Texas punt cover unit

Arenas, who projects as a second round pick in part because of his special teams value, returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown earlier this year and he has seven total punt return touchdowns during his career. He may not have blazing top-end speed but he is very quick and makes defenders miss by changing directions and shifting gears in a flash. At 5-foot-9 Arenas also has a low center of gravity and excellent balance, making him tougher to tackle than his 195-pound frame suggests.

On the flip side, the Longhorns' punt coverage ranks 86th in the FCS in yards allowed per return (10.8). Justin Tucker must get good hang time on his kicks and not out-kick his coverage, while the cover men must stay in their lanes and wrap up when they get to Arenas, things Texas failed to do as recently as the Big 12 championship game. Don't be surprised to see McCoy show off his versatility by pooch punting out of a shotgun formation in certain situations. He is accurate enough to place the ball inside Alabama's 20-yard line and having him punt out of these sets will make dropping Arenas back a much riskier move.

Texas PR Jordan Shipley vs. Alabama's punt cover unit
Alabama has been a bit better than Texas on punt coverage (64th, 9.2 ypr), but the Crimson Tide is still very average in this area and will have to be much stronger to keep Shipley under wraps. Shipley projects as a late-second round pick thanks in part to his speed, and has returned two punts for touchdowns this year. Though he isn't as shifty as Arenas in the open field Shipley reads his blocks well and he's fast enough to go the distance when he gets a seam.

Around the Nation

• McClain (No. 6) is still battling a bout of the stomach flu, and though he feels ready to play he hasn't been cleared by Alabama team doctors yet.

"We're not going to let him play unless the doctors say he can play," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban told the Tuscaloosa News. "If he's sick, dehydrated, he's not going to play in the game. We're not going to put a player at risk regardless of what the circumstance relative to the game is. He's better today (but) he did not do much in practice (Tuesday)."

• Massive Alabama DT Terrence Cody (No. 52) has a lot of people to thank for where he is, and for what he is now. The Dallas Morning News reports Cody realizes the good fortune he's had and that early-morning workouts and excellent coaching helped him shed weight at Alabama and become an NFL prospect.

"I just know I have a great opportunity in front of me," Cody said. "I wake up every morning and pinch myself to see if this is real."

• Florida TE Aaron Hernandez (Scouts Inc.-rated No. 59) announced his intention to enter the NFL Draft on Wednesday. The Gainesville Sun reports Hernandez did so on the fourth anniversary of his father's death. "It is really special for me to take this first step toward my lifelong dream of playing in the NFL on the fourth anniversary of my father's passing," Hernandez said. "I know he would be proud of not only me, but of my whole family, whose love and support are the only reasons I am where I am today."

Florida coach Urban Meyer said Hernandez would be missed. "Aaron was one of the very best at his position that I have ever been around," Meyer said in a UF release. "He has been a key part of our success over the years, but he now has the opportunity to fulfill a lifetime dream by playing in the NFL. He has all the tools to be successful at the next level and we wish him the best."

• Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus watched tape of the Big 12 title game. He was impressed with both Ndamukong Suh (No. 2) and the man taking the beating from Suh, Texas QB Colt McCoy (No. 49). "I was like, 'How did (Suh) go off like that?' " Dareus told the Austin American-Statesman reports. "I couldn't wait to get my turn."

Upon watching tape, Dareus said two things stood out -- Suh "had a motor, he just kept getting after them" and McCoy handled the relentless pressure about as well as any quarterback could.

"McCoy's pretty tough. He kept his composure," Dareus said. "He might have gotten a little rattled, but he played with poise the whole game."

• Texas S Earl Thomas (No. 13) expects tonight's BCS championship game to be a tough one. According to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Thomas said, "It's going to be a physical game. Both defenses are great defenses. They're the top of the league. You know, that just goes to say why we're in the same position. So as a kid, you always want to talk about playing for a college that's going to play for a national championship, and it's just a dream come true."