December 12, 2009

Travis Reier of talks BCS title game

This is one of many opposing viewpoints from Alabama leading up to the Jan. 7 BCS title game. We took a few minutes with Travis Reier from to talk about the national title game matchup …

Q: Seems like Nick Saban is trying to downplay any David vs. Goliath with his team as the favorite in this BCS title game.

That's typical Nick Saban whenever Alabama is perceived as the better team or the far better team, which I don't' think is the case at all in this matchup with Texas. But whenever that case presents itself, he goes out of his way to squash it as soon as possible.

A lot of times he's talking to his own team as much as he's talking to the media. I thought it was entertaining because that's typically the treatment we get here locally covering Alabama. It's been entertaining to see the national guys get the true Nick Saban when the matchup with Texas was announced.

Q: Who is the most valuable player on the Alabama team? Obviously, Greg McElroy was the MVP of the SEC title game. Mark Ingram is the Heisman Trophy winner. Who's the most valuable?

The most irreplaceable is linebacker Rolando McClain. They can play with Trent Richardson at tailback, the wonderfully talented true freshman. I think they could even get away with losing Greg McElroy for a little bit of time.

But Dont'a Hightower, their weakside linebacker, went down fairly early in the season against Arkansas. He's out for the year with an ACL tear. That as much as anything else is the reason I don't think they can do without Rolando McClain.

He is so valuable not only because of what he brings to the table physically. But he not only makes the checks for the front seven, he often makes the checks for the secondary as well. He orchestrates the whole defense.

He has shouldered a great deal this season, and when you combine his physical attributes to go along with the leadership and the knowledge he has of Nick Saban and Kirby Smart's defense, it would be tough to replace.

Q: What is Alabama's biggest concern against Texas?

It starts with Colt McCoy and the passing game of Texas, specifically I'm going to be interested to see if Texas tries to pick up the tempo against Alabama.

In watching teams offensively that have had success against Alabama the past couple years - you go back to the Sugar Bowl last season - Utah came out, not just in a no-huddle, but in a hurry-up, no-huddle offense and really hurt Alabama with its passing attack.

I'll not only be interested in the play-calling Texas uses on offense but the tempo with which Texas goes about its offense, because that's one thing Alabama has really struggled with defensively.

And for the Alabama offense, they've come out and thrown the ball quite a bit on first down. They throw it on first down early, so they can run it on first down in the second half. They try to set things up early by throwing it.

That's what they did to Florida in the SEC title game. And I'll be interested to see if they can have the same type of success against a very talented Texas defense.

Q: Talk about Greg McElroy, a quarterback from Texas (Southlake Carroll), who has made it sound like he can't wait to show the Texas Longhorns what they missed out on by not offering him a scholarship.

Well, he was on fire the first month of the season, there's no doubt about that. He got off to a tremendous start. But he had a little bit of a mid-season swoon and didn't play as well.

But he really picked it up in the final month of the season. The last two games, his confidence has soared. He led Alabama on the game-winning drive against rival Auburn, and that seemed to spike his confidence level, and it carried over to the SEC title game against Florida.

He just came out with tremendous poise against the nation's top-ranked defense, and he was not rattled at all. That's what it's going to take against Texas. He comes from a big-time high school program at Southlake Carroll.

He only started one year, but his dad is an executive with the Dallas Cowboys. Greg's been around professional athletes. So all those things seem to condition him and prepare him for playing quarterback at a place like Alabama. It helps that he's undefeated on both the high school and college level.

Q: An Alabama offense that looked pretty much like a straight-forward power run offense has started to branch out with the passing game. Everyone knows the Alabama defense is lights out. But talk about the evolution of the Bama offense?

It's funny. I think 10 years ago, you would have labeled this offense as modern at Alabama, or pro-style. But with the advent of the spread, it almost seems outdated at times.

It's a standard, pro-style offense, and when everyone's healthy and clicking, you will see an offense that, at times, reminds you of the old Dallas Cowboys with Mark Ingram doing his thing as an Emmitt Smith impersonator; Colin Peak looking a little bit like Jay Novacek; not to say that Greg McElroy has the physical skill sets of a Troy Aikman; but then you've got a physical receiver on the outside in Julio Jones who can give you a little bit of what the Cowboys had in Alvin Harper.

That's when it's at its best. Now, they had a month when it looked like Tuscaloosa Central High. But they've rebounded and really performed at a high level these last four or five weeks.

Q: There are a lot of relationships between Texas and Alabama, starting with Major Applewhite coaching under Nick Saban at Alabama. And Will Muschamp coaching under Nick Saban at LSU and the Miami Dophins as well as Muschamp being a close friend of Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart (after being teammates at Georgia). How will that affect this game as everyone tries to get as much information about the other team as possible?

There's certainly a familiarity there. You even had Bob Stoops here over the summer, convening with Nick Saban in a kind of meeting of the minds in Tuscaloosa to try and figure out ways to defend the spread. So the storylines are plentiful.

Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp played together at Georgia. Both were safeties at the University of Georgia. So there are plenty of ties. Major (Applewhite) was at Alabama for a year and grew up a huge Alabama fan. He was named for Alabama star Major Olgivie. It's going to be fun from that standpoint.

At the end of the day, it will come down to a few wrinkles both teams put in. But I don't see either team getting away too much from what got them here. You win 13 games, you tend to dance with what brung you.

Q: How did it end between Major Applewhite and Nick Saban? There was a lot of speculation that Saban was about to take away Applewhite's play-calling duties on offense and that Major was looking for a way out of Alabama when he landed at Texas.

That was bandied about for sure. I think everyone pretty much denies that. But you have to question whether it was a good fit. And I don't think we ever really saw Major Applewhite's true offense here at Alabama.

It certainly never looked like the offense we saw at Rice. And I don't think it ever would because, first and foremost, Nick Saban wants to beat you down with the running game. Not just a spread running game.

He wants to pound you with two tights and really work a defense over going into the second half. I'm not convinced it was ever a great fit. But there's no doubt in my mind Major's going to be a great coach down the road, and I think it probably worked out the best for everyone involved.

Q: What's been the reaction from Alabama fans about playing Texas in the BCS title game?

Oh, I think they're very excited. Alabama has never beaten Texas (0-7-1). It's a great helmet game, that's for sure. I think Alabama fans wouldn't have minded too much if TCU had snuck in there, because from a ticket price standpoint it would have helped them.

Ticket prices are going to be extremely tough when you put these two fan bases together. But Alabama fans as much as any fan base truly appreciate tradition. They're not crazy about USC and Notre Dame.

But Oklahoma came in here four or five years ago, and the fan bases dealt with each other extremely well both here and in Norman, and I think that will be the case out in Pasadena. Certainly, both want to win the game, but you have to have a real strong appreciation for where both these programs have been and where they appear to be headed.

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