1. NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - Mack Brown opened his press availability Friday night wishing everyone a Happy New Year but quickly got to some news about DE Russell Carter and CB Marcus Davis.
"First let me say Happy New Year to everybody. Let's hope 2010 is the best year in our country's history and we also hope for Texas football," Mack said.
"We are excited to get started with practice. You take a month and two days from the time you play Nebraska to play this game. So we had the real, real tough, physical phase when we first started with ones against ones nearly like a preseason practice right after the finals were over.
"Then we brought 'em back for three days and pretty much did the same with ones against ones and worked more against Alabama's looks and put in our game plans at that time.
"On Saturday, we'll be really physical in practice and then start cutting back toward game time.
"Couple of housekeeping issues: Three young men are not here. Jared Norton, who was injured and not practicing, and Brandon Collins, who is redshirting, are not here. They may come out closer to game time, but they are not here now.
"Russell Carter is academically ineligible. So he will not travel. He will be eligible for the spring, but he messed up a final. And Marcus Davis, who has been suspended for the previous two games, has informed us that he will transfer. He has not told us where, but we will help him any way we can."
2. Mack said several times Friday night that he's stressing his guys getting back to being physical and playing with low pads.
"We have to get back to low pads and ball protection and work to strip the ball and do the things that got you here," Mack said. "But our guys have earned the right to be here. They've played hard.
"All they need to do now is continue to do what they did all year. We lost some momentum toward the end of the year, in the last two games. Alabama gained momentum with their Florida game. So we've got to get our momentum back and come out and play a great game on Thursday."
Mack said the team will do less conditioning now and focus a lot on hitting in Saturday's practice with the hitting tapering off as the week goes on so guys are fresh. Especially with the activities scheduled around the BCS game.
"It's a week of distractions and we've told them to enjoy it but to get rest," Mack said. "We told them, 'You don't get a New Year's because it's all about doing everything you can to win this game.'"
3. Mack said Nebraska's shutout of Arizona should have been a reminder of just how well-earned that 13-12 Big 12 title game was.
"I would think that watching Arizona struggle would make our guys understand that in our business, very few people give the opponent the respect they are due," Mack said. "Watching Nebraska's defense the other night, they should be very respected.
"They gave up like 100 yards against to an Arizona team that had moved up and won the field on teams like USC.
"The offensive line didn't play their best. But when you're blocking Sergio Kindle and Lamarr Houston, Sam Acho, Ben Alexander, Kheeston Randall every day in practice, that's the best preparation you can have for a great defense like Alabama."
4. On the heels of reports that Brent Venables visited Nebraska before the Big 12 title game, I asked Mack about reports (like the following in USA Today) that talked about Bob Stoops visiting with Nick Saban two weeks out from the BCS title game.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops taking a visit to talk with Alabama counterpart Nick Saban wouldn't normally be such a big deal.
Unless, of course, that visit came a little more than two weeks before the Crimson Tide were facing the biggest rival of the Sooners in the national championship game.
Could the meeting between Stoops and Saban last week been about helping Alabama prepare for the Longhorns offense and Colt McCoy?
Saban downplayed the visit to practice, calling it a continuation of the coaches getting together last summer and Stoops following through on his interest in watching the Crimson Tide.
"During this time, we've had numerous coaches from a lot of different places come to practice," Saban explained. "When we got together in the summer, he said that he wanted to come to practice some time. They got here right before practice. They watched the practice organization. They watched practice, and they left.
"We didn't get a chance to spend a lot of time or talk much. We had a Christmas party right after that for the staff here. ... They wanted to watch practice organization, and they did that."
"I think it's the greatest compliment a program could have," Mack said. "I think it's really cool that people are ganging up to try to beat you if that's what happened. I don't know that it happened. I don't know what they did, but if it is true, that would be a great compliment to us."
Mack was asked if he'd ever brought in a coach to talk about a bowl opponent.
"No," he said. "Everyone's got their own deal. There's no rules against it. I don't blame someone for trying to get an edge."
Added Colt McCoy on Friday, "We beat Oklahoma the last two years."
McCoy then went on to praise the Alabama defense:
"I tell you what, Alabama's defense is one of the best we are ever going to play," McCoy said. "They have all kinds of blitzes, all kinds of schemes, and have had three or four weeks to prepare for us. We know that. So we're going to have to go into this game and be as prepared as possible and have fun. We're in the national championship game. This has been our goal since the very beginning of the year."
5. Mack is definitely still playing the underdog card.
"When it's time to play and laugh and enjoy it, we can do that," Mack said. "But you've got to make sure you keep your edge and keep your focus.
"I think one of the things about being an underdog is it's easier to keep an edge than it was last year when we were favored in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.
"It was a very difficult thing because they would drift on us. But the focus has been great with this bunch. It's been fun to prepare with them."
6. Because this game could very well come down to another close, field-goal-type outcome, I asked Mack about his 21-4 record in games decided by three points or less.
"The only game I believe this bunch has lost in that situation was Tech (in 2008)," Mack said. "And they were very disappointed because they thought we should have won.
"The offense came back and did what they needed to do to win the game, and the defense didn't hold up. Other than that, we've been able to win every one of them that these guys have ever been around.
"We feel like that's great confidence. This bunch has won 26 of the last 27 games. They have built a self-esteem and a confidence about them. It's not arrogance. But they feel like they've got a chance to win every time they play."
7. Mack said the game plan is in. Now, it's all about fine-tuning.
"We've got everything in that we're going to use," Mack said. "And in fact, out here, if something doesn't look good, you'll throw it out.
"There's a number of things that occur in bowl games because it's so much like an opening game in a one-game season. You have to really worry about ball security because it's been a long time since they played in a game.
"So you have to hit more with live contact. You have to go back and worry about guys getting tall in their stance and not having a low stance. It's a real concern that if you're in shorts and take time off that they stand up and don't keep their pad level low.
"You have to go back and make sure your catchers are catching it and your interceptors are intercepting it because that's not something they do on their own.
"And you have to make sure your defense works to strip a ball loose. All of those things are critical when you start looking at bowl preparation, and that's why you have to be so physical.
"Then, you have a tendency to put in too much because you have free time. So you watch every Alabama film over and over again and say, 'This will be good.' And before you know it, you have 13 new plays in with no time to work on it.
"Then, what you say is, 'No. We're here, and we're averaging 40 points per game.' So you tweak some things after Nebraska and then add a wrinkle or two. But really good teams don't change who they are for one football game."
8. One of the great stats about this game is that Alabama leads the nation with only 10 turnovers for the season, and Texas leads the nation in interceptions (24) and is No. 2 nationally in takeaways (35). So I asked Mack Brown what he makes of those two facts.
"We're 70-0 when we've won the explosive plays and the turnovers," he said. "So if I say something to the team tonight at dinner that is really, really important it would be, 'If you can get more explosive plays than them and win the turnover battle, history says we'll win.'
"Regardless of what anyone else says about this game, history says we're going to win if we do those things. So we have to sell the kids on that and show them how we plan to get explosives, how we plan to keep them from getting explosives and then we've got to knock some balls loose."
9. I asked Mack if he had seen enough from Christian Scott to think he'll be a factor at safety on defense or just a big part of special teams.
"We need to see more out here," Mack said. "We gave him a lot of stuff at home. I think it would be wrong to think he could walk in and do what Earl (Thomas), Nolan Brewster and Blake Gideon have done all year in a month, even though he's practiced and done the drills.
"He'll be real heavy in special teams. But I would not think he'd be a huge factor. I think it would be unfair to him because we do not know what Alabama will do.
"People give you different looks early in bowl games, and you would not want him to be out there and not as prepared as the other kids."
10. I asked Mack about RB Mark Ingram only losing one fumble all season.
"Coach Saban is a guy who likes to run up and be physical," Mack said. "They are just going to hit you in the mouth and you're not going to have trouble finding him, usually. They are going to pound you and if you continue to let them do that, the game is over.
"They're going to have a play-action pass off of every run that they think is going to be really good because you have to spend all your time stopping the run. He's not going to play a back who puts it on the ground.
"And when he comes out, (Trent) Richardson comes in, and he's fast. They really just don't have any weaknesses in those areas, and Greg (McElroy) is managing the game so much better than he was earlier in the season.
"You see a great receiver and some other really good ones. You see two or three great running backs and a great tight end. You just don't see weaknesses, and that's why they're here."
BONUS NUGGET: Mack had some very pointed thoughts about the dismissal of Mike Leach at Texas Tech.
"The biggest thing I would say as a guy who has been around college football for a long time is I hate it for Mike, I hate it for Texas Tech and I hate it for college football," Mack said. "It's a game, and it's about kids.
"When we get administrators talking about things other than kids and coaches talking about things other than kids, it takes away from what it's supposed to be about, and I really hate for everybody tomorrow night with them playing Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl.
"It's a tough thing. I don't know the circumstances, but I hate it. It's not good for the Big 12. It's not good for Tech. It's not good for Mike, and it's not good for our game.
"And it's a shame that something like this will get so much attention over some heroic things kids on that team have done on and off the field that really need to get attention."
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