Bear Bryant is moaning again, and that usually means he is up to something.
"Not this time," said the Alabama coach. "We're hurting. I mean we could be in trouble if we aren't careful. This is the poorest condition we've been in for a bowl game in a long, long time. Understand, I'm not crying, I'm just stating a few facts."
Bryant also said that if things go right in the other New Year's Day bowl games, the Crimson Tide (9-1-1) could sneak away with the national title by beating Texas (9-1-1) in the Cotton Bowl.
Three of his best players, all-Southeastern Conference tackle Bob Cayavec, running back Linnie Patrick, the team's second-leading rusher, and all-America linebacker Thomas Boyd, aren't even with the team because Bryant is punishing them. A fourth, quarterback Ken Coley, has a sore knee, has not played the last two games and won't play in the Cotton Bowl.
"We'll probably start two freshmen on offense and I don't recommend doing that," said Bryant. "And we probably won't even know who some of our starters will be until the game starts."
Alabama was ranked third in the last poll and Texas sixth.
"I don't know about polls," Bryant said, "but I think we've got a chance to win the national championship. Anything can happen in football and I've been around long enough to see most of it."
Just about the only way Alabama can hope to take the national title is for Nebraska to beat top-ranked and undefeated Clemson in the Orange Bowl and for Georgia to lose to Pitt in the Sugar Bowl, while the Tide wins big over Texas.
Texas has some problems of its own. The Longhorns held opponents to 2.2 yards a carry and 97 yards a game rushing this season, but two of the main reasons why, all-America defensive tackle Kenneth Sims and the other tackle, Mark Weber, are out with injuries.
Sims, who could be the first player selected in the National Football League draft, broke his leg in the ninth game of the season.
"He was our best player," said Coach Fred Akers, "and when you lose your best player, everyone has to play better. Not just the defense, but the offense, too."
It is no secret that Alabama, using its wishbone offense, plans to run right at Texas. Bryant has jazzed up the 'bone with a bit of veer and a little I formation, but he still believes in running.
The Tide has no running stars such as Texas' A.J. (Jam) Jones, who gained 834 yards this season, or John Walker, with 714 yards. But although 19 Alabamans have carried the ball and the leading rusher is freshman Ricky Moore with 347 yards, the Tide is seventh in the nation in rushing, averaging 280 yards a game.
Akers also announced that Robert Brewer would be his starting quarterback.
Brewer played for the first time, against Houston, when Rick McIvor was injured with the Longhorns trailing, 14-0. Brewer led the Longhorns to a 14-14 tie, then to victories in the last three games and a berth in the Cotton Bowl.
McIvor is healthy now, but Akers said he will go with Brewer, anyway.
"He's a great little competitor," the coach said. "He won't dazzle you with his footwork and he's not flashy, but the kid has confidence and he's a winner."
Alabama tied Georgia for the Southeast Conference championship, but the Sugar Bowl picked the Bulldogs to represent the conference, opening the way for Alabama to go to the Cotton Bowl to face the Southwest Conference champion.
That would have been Southern Methodist (10-1), but the Mustangs are on probation and ineligible to play in a bowl game. They were the only team to beat Texas this year.