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January 2, 2010

Lone Star matchup

The last time Greg McElroy played in a winner-takes-all championship game, the score was 34-20. He completed 21 of 31 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns to be named game MVP as Southlake Carroll completed a perfect season in the Texas Class 5A state title game against Katy.

In the process, he finished his only high school season as a starting quarterback with 4,687 passing yards, with his 56 touchdowns setting a state record.

"In high school, that's about as big of a stage as you can get," McElroy said. "At Alabama, this is about as big a stage as you can get as well.

"There's a lot of similarity in terms of your approach, not making the game bigger than it has to be. It really is just a battle between two teams."

How fitting is it that McElroy's here now leading the University of Alabama football team in the BCS National Championship Game against the team he grew up rooting against, Texas. McElroy was a fan of Texas Tech, where he committed to play college football until Alabama call calling.

Not that there's really much of a grudge … expect maybe from the Longhorn coaches telling him he was too slow to play in their system and already had Colt McCoy.

"Every time you look up, there is one we should have taken," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "There are 375 (recruits in the state). I'm appealing the NCAA to see if we can get 375 scholarships available each year, and that's the only way to correct who we're going to play against.

"But you look at what they've done, both kids have done an amazing job, and offensively, (McElroy) couldn't have played any better in that ballgame against Florida."

Of course, that was the other supposed grudge game for McElroy, who took advantage of the opening in the signing class when Tim Tebow opted to play for the Gators instead of the Crimson Tide. He downplayed that matchup and passed for 239 yards and a touchdown in the SEC Championship to lead a 32-13 victory in the No. 1 vs. 2 rematch.

"I just fell in love with it here," he said. "It was the greatest fit for me, both academically and athletically, and I have never regretted my decision since."

Which leads to two crucial statistics in the buildup to Thursday:

1) While at 45-7 with one loss over the past two seasons McCoy has already set the NCAA record for career wins (topping Georgia's David Greene at 42-10), McElroy has yet to lose at the high school or collegiate levels.

2) McElroy has had only had four passes intercepted. There have hardly been any balls tipped up by receivers and very few times he's been hit while throwing. Considering the junior's thrown 314 passes this season, it works out to 1.27 percent of his attempts.

"It's something I take a lot of pride in," McElroy said.

On the flip side, Texas' defense leads the nation with 24 interceptions, on 448 attempts (5.35 percent). In comparison, Alabama had 20 picks on 407 attempts, slightly behind at 4.91 percent.

"It's just a little bit different, I think they're mostly on speed and strictly on stopping the pass in their conference," McElroy said. "Some of the numbers can be a little misleading, but they have great talent.

"Across the board, this is probably the fastest team we've played, from defensive end all the way up to safety. They're real similar to Florida in their personnel."

Overall, McElroy completed 192 of 314 passes for 2,450 yards and 17 touchdowns. He completed 61.1 percent, averaged 188.5 yards per game and has a passer efficiency rating of 142.01. While some have speculated that his hot start followed by some midseason struggles keyed sophomore running back Mark Ingram winning the Tide's first Heisman Trophy, his leading the game-winning touchdown drive in the final minutes at Auburn silenced all critics.

"That fourth-quarter drive against Auburn, you really kind of see a quarterback as a first-year starter really come into his own and really kind of put his mark on Alabama history," senior guard Mike Johnson said. "He took over that drive and he completed a lot of good balls and did a lot of good things. When the running game wasn't really clicking, he was able to step up and come into his own and really make his mark on this team. He pulled out that victory for us.

"You saw a good quarterback make a lot of good plays and in the end, we came out with the win. I think that says volumes about the guy that he is."

Good enough to beat the guy Texas wanted more than him? That won't be determined until Thursday night at the Rose Bowl.

"He was a hard worker back in high school," former Southlake Carroll teammate and current Longhorns running back Tre' Newton said. "He always listened to what coach told him to do. So I'm not surprised at his success."


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