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Colt McCoy's injury puts Texas in a hole it nearly digs out of

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Kevin Sherrington
January 8, 2010
— On college football’s greatest stage, in the game he waited five years to play, Colt McCoy took five snaps.

And just like that, it was all over.


The winningest quarterback in college football history, left without a say in the game he wanted to win the most.


For a player of McCoy’s stock, surely there was no crueler irony in this BCS title game.


Better to play dreadfully and lose. Better to take your best shot and come up short. Better to know you simply weren’t good enough.


But to have to leave with an injured right shoulder when it all looked so promising?


To never know what might have been?


Alabama made a pretty fair argument in a 37-21 win before 94,906 at the Rose Bowl. If nothing else, the Crimson Tide upheld the honor of the SEC, which is now 6-0 in these affairs.


Once Nick Saban had used up his misguided gadgets and Alabama finally resorted to what it does best, the game grudgingly grew out of hand. The SEC formula—power on both sides of the football—once again trumped Big 12 finesse, at least on offense.


On any other night, this game might have provided a referendum on offensive styles. The spread, or the Big 12’s version, anyway, looks as if it’s seen its day. With the exit of Mike Leach and the onset of Nebraska’s SEC-style approach, the evolution seems natural. Defenses have figured it out. They’re playing it more aggressively. They’re pressing receivers and taking away quick passes.


Still, the champion of Texas’ spread never got much chance to make an argument for it Thursday.


McCoy’s backup, redshirt freshman Garrett Gilbert, proved to be more than game. With Texas doing all it could to pile up numbers for McCoy’s Heisman case this season, Gilbert had been little more than a valet. Pressed into an untenable situation for such a green kid, he handled it well.


He didn’t get much help early on. A touchdown pass bounced off Malcolm Williams’ hands, and Jordan Shipley, normally as sure-handed as any receiver in the country, dropped two passes.


Without their two-time Heisman finalist, Texas’ offensive players looked rattled. You couldn’t really blame them. Hard enough to take on maybe the nation’s best defense at full strength. Harder still when you don’t know what it’s like to do it without your best player.


In four years, McCoy had missed only part of one game, and that was as a redshirt freshman. Ever since, he’s been so dependable that it was easy to take him for granted.


But no matter how tough or talented, quarterbacks get hurt. Ask Oklahoma. When Sam Bradford re-injured his shoulder against Texas in the Cotton Bowl, I wrote the same column about him that I’m writing now.


Two great quarterbacks. Two great friends.


Two done before their time.


McCoy tried to talk Texas’ athletic trainers and coaches into letting him play, but they had none of it. He has a future in football.


Just not in college, anymore.


He spent most of the second half standing by himself on the sideline, hands hung in his collar, listening to coaches on a headset. If it was hard for teammates to watch, imagine his thoughts.


There would be no chance to use a Heisman snub as motivation like Vince Young did, no shot to build his own Rose Bowl legacy, no opportunity to lead his team one last time.


And when Gilbert’s improbable comeback bid died in the game’s last three minutes, the disappointment was complete.


From a personal standpoint, McCoy will have to settle for being the winningest quarterback ever. But if we know anything about him by now, it’s how much he loved to play, to compete.


An injury robbed him of that opportunity Thursday, no doubt altering the outcome in the process. Now the hard part comes. He has to learn to live with it.



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