OPINION: Love em or hate em, victory over Texas validates Alabama coach Nick Saban

MIAMI — The outcome of the BCS National Championship Game was like a hung jury.

After months’ worth of evidence and arguments, the verdict was inconclusive.

No. 1 Alabama defeated No. 2 Texas, 37-21, for the crystal trophy, but the confetti fluttering down inside the Rose Bowl could have been imprinted with asterisks.

What if Colt McCoy, the Longhorns’ best player and the winningest quarterback in NCAA history, had not been knocked out of the game on Texas’ fifth offensive play, after just two minutes and seven seconds of college football’s showcase finale? What if he had not been replaced by freshman Garrett Gilbert, who had not taken a meaningful snap since leading his high school team to the state championship last year?

But we can’t say, “Cut!” and relegate Thursday’s flawed clash into a flubbed outtake. This was a live reality show, and the reality was that Alabama took McCoy out of the game of his life with a brutal tackle early in the first quarter, then prevented his understudy from leading a miraculous comeback with another brutal tackle late in the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t simply bad luck for Texas but Alabama creating its own good fortune. It was another Southeastern Conference team proving for the fourth year in a row that the hardest hits come from the toughest conference. It was Nick Saban confirming that he is back as the Genghis Khan of college football, ruler of an empire based in Tuscaloosa.

Love him or, more likely if you are not an Alabama fan, despise him, Saban’s style wins, and its signature is black-and-blue defense.

Saban smiles about as often as Dick Cheney, and it would take exploratory surgery to find his sense of humor. Even when his players doused him with the traditional Gatorade shower, Saban maintained his dour countenance. Pity the two players who turned Saban’s shirt pink.

They are probably running laps right now.

Dolphin fans have a special place in their hearts for Saban, and it is not a warm one. He left Miami under dishonest circumstances, but it was the right move. He is better suited to the college game and kids who will buy into his discipline and doublespeak. Even amid the euphoria Thursday night, he couldn’t stop referring to the “process” of rebuilding Alabama after inheriting a 6-7 team and a program that had been in tumult and in NCAA trouble since it last won a national title 17 years ago.

STRANGE MOVES

Saban coached a mighty strange game Thursday, as did Texas’ Mack Brown. A fake punt from your own 23-yard-line? A shovel pass with 15 seconds left in the first half?

Yet it wasn’t Saban’s fault that his opponent was not at full strength, that poor, gallant McCoy could not return after the hit on his right shoulder by defensive end Marcell Dareus.

“I could throw the ball,” said McCoy, who was diagnosed with a pinched nerve. “I just had no idea where it was going. My arm felt like a noodle.”

We were denied the chance to watch McCoy, who came back to Texas for his senior season to win the title. But Texas didn’t lose the title. Alabama won it.

Sure, freshman Gilbert was thrust into a situation that would make most of us panic, vomit or faint.

At first, he looked totally overwhelmed, completing 1 of 10 passes for minus 4 yards and throwing two interceptions.

“Here’s a guy standing there on the sidelines as cold as he can be, and all of a sudden in the national championship game it’s like, ‘OK, son, you’ve got it,'” Brown said. “I can’t even imagine.”

TURNING THE TIDE

But it was Alabama’s Dareus who picked off the ill-advised shovel pass and then spun like he was wearing a size XLLL leotard into the end zone.

It was Alabama’s Eryk Anders blitzing Gilbert with a blind-side smash that caused a fumble recovered at the Texas’ 3-yard line. Alabama’s ensuing touchdown with about three minutes to play halted Texas’ comeback and expanded Alabama’s shrinking lead to 10 points.

It was Alabama that scored four rushing touchdowns and gained 205 yards against the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense, one that had allowed only an average of 62.2 yards. It was Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson announcing that Alabama might have two Heisman Trophy candidates next season.

Texas had a chance, even with babe-in-the-woods Gilbert at the helm.

But a touchdown pass bounced off Malcolm Williams’ hands, and Jordan Shipley dropped two. The Longhorns defense did not measure up to that of the Crimson Tide.

In the end, Alabama deserved to win the title, a month after it won it the first time, with a resounding defeat of No. 1 Florida in the SEC title game. Recall that Texas did not meet any team ranked higher than 18th until Alabama demonstrated how the South plays football.

The spotlight has shifted from Gainesville to Tuscaloosa. No wonder Urban Meyer considered retirement.

Saban has the Tide rolling.

Linda Robertson/The Miami Herald/(MCT)