To be sure, a 9-3 record and a chance to finish in the Top 15 is a bonafide success at most places. Then again, The University of Texas is not most places.
Much has been made of the last time a disappointed Longhorn team faced Iowa in a bowl game, resulting in a 55-17 Hawkeye shellacking. Very few currently playing for the Burnt Orange were even born by that miserable December 26, 1984 night. It will be a non-factor Saturday but, ideally, there are those on this year's roster who can recall the winter of our discontent following the 2003 Holiday Bowl (not to mention the 2000 Cotton Bowl). It's what happens when a team clearly wants, and expected, to be somewhere else.
The media-savvy Longhorns are saying all the right things since the bowl selections were announced. Almost to a man, they insist they are "excited" to be playing in San Antonio. (It reminds me of one of those See-And-Say toys where you pull the string and you get the programmed response). Conversely, a 6-6 Iowa team that finished eighth in the Big Ten is genuinely delighted to be playing at an otherwise terrific December bowl venue against the defending national champ.
"When I found out we were coming to the Alamo Bowl," Iowa QB Drew Tate said, "it was the happiest I felt all season."
The Alamo Bowl will be a de facto home crowd for Texas, and I'd like to think that counts for something. Then again, it seems like Texas also had a partisan crowd last November 24 at Memorial Stadium. Then again, Iowa is not as good as the Aggie team that upset the Horns that day. Iowa has been as injury-riddled as Texas in 2006. The Hawkeyes cannot approximate Texas' depth or its team speed. Iowa's cornerbacks are very suspect. Their receivers drop footballs like they were bad habits. Still, Iowa is thrilled to be in this football game.
Enter one Colt McCoy.
Heart, soul and pride: thy name is Colt McCoy. I can envision a scenario much like the 2001 Holiday Bowl where it took Texas three quarters to shake off the bitter disappointment of its previous loss (to Colorado in the Big 12 championship game). QB Major Applewhite willed his team to, what was at the time, the biggest comeback in program history. If Colt is, indeed, as healthy as he insists, then he can revitalize this team and pick up where we left off at the end of Oklahoma State game (the closest thing to a complete game from Texas this season). McCoy will need the kind of help he has not consistently received from the running game, since the only Longhorn scholarship QB available will be no threat to scramble.
If McCoy goes down, all bets are off and an inferior Iowa wins by at least ten points.
If McCoy is near enough to his old self, I'm calling it Texas 28, Iowa 20.
Michael Pearle, Co-Publisher -- If you take Mack Brown's word for it, that the Horns are as healthy as they have been since the third or fourth week of the season, and that the team is actually excited to be playing 6-6 Iowa in a lower tier bowl game, and you take Colt McCoy's word for it that he is 100 percent and feels great with no problems throwing the football, then you have to like Texas' chances to win the Alamo Bowl Saturday.
But if you worry that the Horns may still be smarting over their late season swoon that saw them drop their last two ballgames and fall out of the BCS picture and the Big 12 title game, and worry about whether the Texas defense can find a way to stop a two-dimensional Iowa offense with a 6-7, 260 tight end and a Texan at quarterback with something to prove against the marquee program in his home state that did not recruit him, well then, you may not be too sure about a Texas victory.
Put me in the latter camp.
Something about this matchup of the Iowa offense against the Texas defense has me a bit nervous. Everyone knows Iowa quarterback Drew Tate is a talented player with a ton of experience, and he will be playing this game with a chip on his shoulder, as will his big TE target Scott Chandler of Southlake Carroll. Texas didn't recruit Tate, and Chandler said the Horns sent him letters, but probably just as a courtesy to his high school coach, former Horn Todd Dodge, and didn't go after him very hard. These guys will definitely have extra incentive. But it is their ability to throw against a suspect Texas secondary kept honest by hand-offs to Albert Young, the 2005 Big Ten rushing leader, that is the primary concern. Iowa looks to me like a team that can attack the parts of the Texas defense that looked vulnerable this season. Remember Ohio State slot receiver Anthony Gonzalez running wild against Texas in week two? Chandler has to be licking his chops watching that film. Can Duane Akina, in his first gig as the lone DC with responsibility for a defensive gameplan, find a way to shut down Tate & Co.? That for me is the key to this ballgame.
Offensively, if in fact McCoy - Colt that is - is ready to go physically, I expect the Texas offense to get back in the groove that saw it win eight straight ballgames. Limas Sweed, Billy Pittman, Jermichael Finley, Jamaal Charles and Selvin Young all will get their touches and yards, and the Horns will rack up plenty of points against an Iowa defense that gave up 38 points to Ohio State, 31 to Indiana and 34 to Minnesota.
I see this game as a tight one until midway in the third quarter, when Texas will get out front and hold off the Hawkeyes' attempts at a comeback. For Texas fans, the Alamo will be one to remember. Texas 34, Iowa 24.
Clendon Ross, Co-Publisher -- We're hearing all the right things from down in San Antonio from Mack Brown and from the Texas players, and the reports from the practice field seem to indicate that the Longhorns are loose, healthy and ready to put the disastrous regular season-ending stretch behind them. It's just a gut feeling, but I'm not so sure.
I can't help but think back to the week of the A&M game, when Texas legitimately had plenty left to play for aside from 'just' a 10-win season and a 'minor' bowl victory. We heard all the right things, and the reports from the practice field seemed to indicate that the Longhorns were ready to put the Kansas State disaster behind them.
None of that translated to the playing field on the day after Thanksgiving in a dreadful performance against a relatively mediocre (not to mention rival) Aggie squad.
So I see three keys to the Alamo Bowl against another relatively mediocre opponent, none of which will be evident till the teams actually line up on Saturday: one, which team has the emotional advantage; two, will Colt McCoy not only be able to start the game, but finish it, without limiting the playbook to mask any lingering health issues; and, three, will the UT D turn in an inspired and effective performance for Duane Akina's coordinator 'audition'.
I don't know the answers to those questions, but here's my prediction on each. Iowa may be 6-6, but the Horns 9-3 record is arguably more disappointing to the defending national champs, a team in legitimate title range 10 games into this season. The Hawkeyes want to be in the Alamo Bowl far more than Texas does. Advantage, Iowa. Two, regardless of how good Colt has looked in practice this week and last (and all indications are that he has looked strong), he has not been hit even once. He'll be hit early and often (if recent games are any indication), and that's when any lingering effects of the pinched nerve will be felt. Knowing that, Greg Davis is likely to limit the offensive gameplan (as he did against A&M.) and hope to protect Colt, limit offensive mistakes and score just enough to win a close game. Again, advantage, Iowa (by none of its own doing). Three, the Texas defenders like the personable, fiery Akina. Despite Mack's protestations to the contrary, the Longhorn defenders know this game is indeed a de facto audition for Akina, and I expect we'll see an effort more reminiscent of the second half versus Oklahoma than what we saw in Manhattan and, at the most crucial time, on the day after Thanksgiving. And, perhaps as importantly, an auditioning Akina will not stubbornly stick to a base defense that is so susceptible to the pass. Advantage, Texas.
For the Hawkeyes to win, I think they need a 'perfect storm' of conditions, and, as described above, I think they're close to having it, which to me points to a fifth nailbiter in the last six games. But I'm betting on the Texas defense to come up big in the Alamodome and save the '06 season from a truly disastrous ending. Texas 22, Iowa 18.
Ross Lucksinger, InsideTexas.com Editor -- The Iowa Hawkeyes are a more challenging opponent than most Texas fans suspect. Defensively, they boast a solid line that they lean heavily on for a pass rush. Iowa only blitzes 12% of the time, which is by far the lowest total the Longhorns will have faced all year, perhaps ever. But the defensive backfield keeps everything in front of them with the added zone and rely on their front four to get to the quarterback and they quite often do. With only a 12% blitz the Hawkeyes have amassed 21 sacks this season.
They also have an athletic linebacking corps, even without injured middle linebacker Mike Kilnkenborg, the team's leading tackler with 129 (I could probably amuse myself for hours saying his name. Go ahead. Say it. Klinkenborg. Wondrous, no?)
With a talented quarterback in Drew Tate and a consistent rushing attack lead by junior Albert Young, the Hawkeyes can score points.
In fact, when you put all of these factors together, it shouldn't add up to 6-6. But there is one more statistic to throw into the mix: a -8 turnover differential. Iowa has turned the ball over 29 times this season (18 INTs, 11 fumbles lost) and has been killed time and time again by mental mistakes.
It may have been a bit of an up-and-down year for the Texas offense, but the one thing that they excel at the most is taking advantage of turnovers with the vertical passing game. With a healthy Colt McCoy at the helm, the Texas offense will collectively have the confidence they lacked in the loss to Texas A&M in the regular season finale. The Texas D will make a few mistakes but will look cohesive in Duane Akina's first game as a solo coordinator. Texas 34, Iowa 20.