The sure thing was looking shaky for Alabama.
PASADENA, Calif. — First, the Alabama defense knocked Colt McCoy out of the game. Later, it saved a national championship.
Hanging onto a precarious three-point lead and with momentum on the other side, linebacker Eryk Anders was determined not to let the BCS title slip away.
Anders forced a fumble on his blindside sack of Texas backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert with 3:02 left Thursday night to help the top-ranked Crimson Tide hold on for a 37-21 victory — a win that figured to be much easier when McCoy went out with a shoulder injury early in the first quarter.
"We said, 'It's on us, the defensive line,'" Alabama's 350-pound All-American Terrence Cody said. "We had to make plays to finish it off. There was no doubt in our huddle. We knew what we can do."
They did, and brought back glory to one of the country's most storied programs, the football factory that Bear Bryant built. This one came courtesy of Nick Saban, who resurrected this team in the short span of three seasons.
"We back," said Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, the offensive MVP.
Back for the first time since 1992, when Bryant's protege, Gene Stallings, led the Crimson Tide to its last national title. This one gives Alabama eight since the polls began in the 1930s. Its seventh Associated Press championship should be a shoo-in when the votes are tabulated.
Ingram finished with 116 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and Trent Richardson had 109 yards and two scores as Alabama beat Texas for the first time in nine meetings between two of college football's most successful teams.
Anders will go down with them in Crimson Tide lore, as will Marcell Dareus, who knocked McCoy — the winningest quarterback in college football history — down and out with an injury to his throwing shoulder on Texas' fifth offensive play. "I just heard a thump when I hit him," Dareus said. "I did lay it down pretty hard. I didn't try to, but it felt great."
A bit later, Dareus picked off Gilbert's shovel pass and returned it 28 yards for a TD and a 24-6 lead late in the second quarter.
But it wasn't quite over.
"It was like we'd won the game at halftime," Saban said. "But you can't accept being average. You're playing a team in the national championship game that knows how to win."
The second half turned out to be anything but a laugher with Gilbert in the game — a highly recruited freshman who was Texas' "quarterback of the future" but had thrown only 26 college passes coming into this game.
He threw two touchdown passes to All-American Jordan Shipley to trim the deficit to 24-21 with 6:15 left, and after an Alabama punt, he had the ball at the 7-yard line, 93 yards away from one of the most improbable comeback stories in the history of the game.
But after an Alabama holding penalty moved the ball to the 17, Gilbert dropped back to pass and got rocked by Anders, a senior who plays in the shadow of Cody and fellow All-American Rolando McClain. The ball went flying and Courtney Upshaw recovered.
Three plays later, Ingram surged into the end zone from the 1 for a 10-point lead. A few minutes later, after Gilbert's third interception of the night, Richardson scored his second touchdown to make it 37-21.
Dareus finished with one tackle, one interception and one touchdown, but all were game-changers.
Seeking its second national title in five years, Texas (13-1) got to the game on the back of McCoy, its All-American quarterback, who often looked like a one-man show in leading the Longhorns to 13 straight wins. After the injury, McCoy was asking to go back in to finish his last college game. His dad, interviewed on ABC, said the injury wasn't that bad. But Texas coach Mack Brown decided to err on the side of caution, and McCoy spent the second half wearing a headset on the sideline, trying to encourage his teammates.
"I would have given anything to be out there because it would have been different," he said.
The Longhorns defense, ranked third in the country in yards allowed, kept things close while Gilbert got his feet underneath him.
And boy did he.
He led the Longhorns on a five-play, 59-yard drive to make it 24-13, then 60 yards for the second score, and suddenly, the Tide was falling apart, not rolling. The 2-point conversion made it 24-21.
"It's a hard learning curve but he learned fast," Brown said. "At one point, I thought he was going to win the ballgame."
The Tide, however, hung on and Saban became the first coach since the polls began in 1936 to win national titles with two schools. He won the 2003 BCS championship with LSU. The program was grounded, of course, in the hardscrabble work-ethic brought to Tuscaloosa in the 1960s by The Bear, who roamed the sideline in his houndstooth hat and painted the quintessential portrait of a football coach in those days.
His legacy still permeates almost everything at Alabama and it was Saban, who took over a program decimated by scandals, bad decisions and NCAA troubles over the past decade, who convinced the Tide faithful they had to let go of the past if they were ever going to enjoy the present.
It took him just three short years, and now 'Bama is back.
"I think there's a lot of people who are responsible for that," Saban said. "Our administration made a commitment to rebuild Alabama, to do something everyone could be proud of."