NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The best chance of the Texas Longhorns walked quickly into the news conference. At first glance, that chance seemed kind of small.
Over his career, Colt McCoy has always seemed to leave that first impression. He has one of those kid-brother faces that makes you suspect he might be a college freshman, which makes sense because when he was a freshman, he looked like an eighth-grader.
Back in those days, McCoy once walked into the office of Greg Davis, the Texas offensive coordinator, and announced that he was going to be the best quarterback Davis has ever coached. And Davis thought: "Yeah, right. I've got Pee-wee Herman here."
That was long ago, before McCoy proved he is big enough, before he proved he was tough enough, before he proved he is talented enough.
Tonight, in the BCS title game, McCoy attempts to prove it again.
It makes sense that a kid named Colt would be Texas' best shot, doesn't it? And he is. There is no way the Longhorns can stand up to the Alabama defense, no way they can win the title, unless McCoy makes it happen. McCoy cannot get away with being average, or being pretty good. Against Alabama, he has to be great.
Fortunately for Texas, it isn't hard to imagine.
For so long, McCoy has been so good. He has won more games than any other college quarterback in history (45 out of 52). He has thrown for 13,428 yards and rushed for 1,577. He has accounted for 132 touchdowns. He has led the Longhorns to 26 victories in their last 27 games.
Still, he has not won a national championship game. Win that, and yeah, you could make an argument that McCoy could be the best quarterback Texas has ever had.
It is on McCoy. The Longhorns have not been able to run the ball consistently all year. Against the Alabama defense, which McCoy describes as "a nightmare," it doesn't figure to break loose, either. That puts the burden squarely on McCoy.
So you ask him: Can Texas win if he doesn't play well?
"No," McCoy said. "In this offense, it's the same every week. I like that. It's part of playing the position. It's just how it is."
So what are the clues here? Why should you believe that McCoy will be able to give his team a chance?
1. His ability to handle pressure. McCoy has 12 comeback wins, eight of them in the fourth quarter. But if you want to know about McCoy and pressure, there is a better story than pressure.
It was Memorial Day, back in 2006, and McCoy was at his parents' house in Graham, Texas. It was about 9 at night when McCoy heard the yelling across Timber Ridge Lake. At first, he thought it was kids playing, but when he approached the water with his father, the yelling became more urgent. The lake was too wide to go around, and there were no boats, so McCoy kicked off his shoes, and he and his father, Brad, hit the water.
The lake was 300 to 400 yards wide, McCoy said, and it was dark. Still, they swam across the water and followed the noise to a neighbor's dock. Ken Herrington was having one of several grand mal seizures of that night. McCoy calmed down Patina, Ken's wife. A neighbor had called 911, so McCoy climbed up the steep hill, 150 yards or so, to flag down the ambulance and helped get Ken inside. Ken lived, and the Herringtons became huge McCoy fans.
Ability to make a long drive under pressure? Check.
Ability to reach the goal when it appears he is in over his head? Check.
Ability to save the day? Check.
Is it any wonder that Texas fans think of McCoy in the same manner as Florida fans think of Tim Tebow? Except, of course, Tebow gets compared to Chuck Norris, not Pee-wee Herman.
2. Accomplishment. McCoy's stats read like pinball scores. In 52 starts, he has completed 70.3 percent of his passes. Against Top 25 opponents, his team has an 11-3 record.
Here's the number you can't escape, however. No quarterback has ever won as many as McCoy's 45 games. (Georgia's David Greene won 43, Tennessee's Peyton Manning won 39). This week, McCoy was asked which quarterback an NFL general manager should pick first.
"I'm a winner," McCoy said.
3. Resiliency. Even after all this success, McCoy will tell you about the low points of playing quarterback for a high-pressure football program such as Texas. In particular, he will tell you about losing back-to-back games to Kansas State and Oklahoma in his sophomore season when his own fans wondered if he was enough of a player or enough of a leader.
"Playing at UT, you don't lose two games in a row," McCoy said. "I was booed off the field against Kansas State. It was a tough time for me. At a time like that, you have to gather yourself and move forward. But part of playing quarterback is overcoming adversity. I'm a better quarterback because I went through that."
4. Experience. McCoy has been here before. He was a redshirt freshman the last time Texas played in the BCS title game, a "hamburger eater" as Texas coach Mack Brown calls those who were just along for the ride. After Texas stopped Southern California late in the game, then-quarterback Vince Young looked at McCoy and said: "Hey, this is pretty special. Pay attention, because you're going to be here someday."
Then Young went out and won the championship.
There are so many similarities here. Back then, Young had lost the Heisman to a running back from the opposing team. The Longhorns were underdogs. And Young made sure none of it mattered.
Tonight, that's all McCoy has to do. He has to go out and be Vince Young. He has to move the ball on the best defense in college football. One more time, he has to be big enough, good enough, tough enough.
One more time, he has to win.