The seeds of Alabama's national championship game appearance were planted right after last season.
"We kind of showed a picture to the players of the SEC Championship, and we said there are some great teams and we would have some difficult times, and we had to work to beat the best team in our league. ... And everything you do, every time you go to work, every time we lift weights, every time you run, every time we practice, it's not to be as good as the guy you're playing against. It's to be as good as the guy you have to beat to be the champion.
"Our players bought into that."
So, it's no surprise to Alabama that it is headed to Pasadena to play in the national championship game after dispatching the defending national champion Florida Gators 32-13 in the SEC title game.
It's a powerhouse matchup: 13-0 Alabama vs. 13-0 Texas.
Everything -- well, most everything -- starts for both of these teams on defense.
Alabama ranks No. 2 and Texas No. 3 in total defense. The Longhorns are No. 1 and the Tide No. 2 in rushing defense. Alabama is No. 1 and Texas No. 8 in scoring defense ... and on it goes, right down the line, where statistically these are two of the best defenses in the country.
Offensively, however, they are very different.
Texas, behind quarterback Colt McCoy, is 14th in passing and 55th in rushing, while Alabama is 12th in rushing and 84th in passing.
To get here, Alabama had to win close games, blocking a last-second field goal try by Tennessee to preserve a 12-10 victory and driving the length of the field for a touchdown on the final possession to beat Auburn. But the Tide capped the season with a dominating victory over Florida in Atlanta's Georgia Dome to win the school's 22nd SEC title.
"Our fullback, Baron Huber, said it best when he said, 'If you could write a page in history, what would you want it to say?'"
Alabama has a chance to write some history with the school's recognized 13th national championship in January.
--The Southeastern Conference will be represented in the BCS title game for the fourth consecutive year. The league's representative won the three previous games (Florida 2006, LSU 2007, Florida 2008).
--Can anybody match Mal Moore's collection of national titles? The Alabama athletic director has been a part of seven national championship teams -- one as a back-up quarterback at Alabama, five as an assistant on Paul "Bear" Bryant's Alabama staff, and the last one as an assistant on Alabama's 1992 team coached by Gene Stallings.
"I knew Coach (Saban) was the man for the job," Moore said of his decision to go all out in pursuit of Nick Saban after the 2006 season. "He was a proven coach and had won championships, and he has an opportunity to do it again."
But did Moore really think Saban could do it in just three years at Alabama?
"No," Moore said, smiling. "This has happened faster. Much faster."
--Alabama has won an SEC championship in every decade since the league was formed in 1933.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Alabama is showing more balance, with QB Greg McElroy spreading the ball around to WR Julio Jones, WR Marquis Maze, TE Colin Peek and TB Mark Ingram. But what the Tide really likes to do is just pound opposing defenses with the run (215.8 yards per game) and play ball control (SEC-leading 33 minutes average time of possession). Often, Alabama will throw early to soften defenses, then come with the bruising Ingram and freshman Trent Richardson. The Tide offense just seems to get stronger as the game goes on, dominating fourth quarters this year with a 109-24 scoring advantage.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Tide has one of the best linebackers in the game in Rolando McClain and one of the most intrigue nose tackles in 365-pound Terrence Cody. The defense uses an NFL-style philosophy of trying to take advantage of personnel mismatches. The Tide can be multiple in formations without changing personnel, and has done a very good job of disguising coverages and matching opposing offenses shift for shift before the snap of the ball.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Texas QB Colt McCoy vs. Alabama LB Rolando McClain -- McCoy will be responsible for reading the Alabama defense and making adjustments to what he sees. McClain is responsible for reading the Texas offense and making adjustments for what he sees. Both are capable of changing calls multiple times at the line of scrimmage in an intricate guessing game, and both are physical enough to back up whatever they call with pure ability.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think that a lot in life comes down to expectations sometimes, and we didn't come here looking for a moral victory." -- Alabama coach Nick Saban, after a 32-13 victory over defending national champion Florida in the SEC Championship Game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BOWL BREAKDOWN: Alabama vs. Texas, BCS Championship Game, Jan. 7, Pasadena, Calif. -- The Crimson Tide will be going for its 13th recognized national championship. However, the Tide is 0-7-1 all-time against the Longhorns. The team last met on Jan 1. 1982, when Texas scored twice in the fourth quarter to beat Alabama, 14-12, in the Cotton Bowl. Five of the eight meetings have come in bowl games.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
TB Mark Ingram -- He's the SEC's second leading rusher (118.6 ypg) who rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns in the SEC Championship Game against Florida, adding 76 yards on two receptions.
QB Greg McElroy -- The surprise MVP of the SEC Championship Game (12 of 18 passing, 239 yards, one touchdown), McElroy has not lost a game as a starting quarterback in college (13-0) or high school (16-0).
LB Rolando McClain -- He is the heart of the Alabama defense, calling signals as well as leading the team with 101 tackles, 12.5 behind the line of scrimmage.
CB/KR Javier Arenas -- He is the SEC career leader in punt return yards and touchdowns, and his fourth-quarter interception of Tim Tebow in the end zone effectively shut down the Gators' hope of a comeback in the SEC title game.
--LB Dont'a Hightower is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery following an injury in the Arkansas game.
--DE Damion Square is out for the season with a knee injury.
--Reserve RB Terry Grant was limited almost the entire season with an abdominal strain.