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It’s scant comfort to Foster, but he’s got plenty of company. This could be called the year of the kicker in college football, and not in a heroic way.

Stanford’s Jordan Williamson missed two kicks _ as time expired and in overtime _ that could have won the Fiesta Bowl. He and Foster are Texans who met at kicking camps.

“I felt his pain for that one,” Foster said. “He’s a great kicker and he’s going to bounce back from it and be all right.”

Virginia Tech’s third-teamer Jordan Myer made four field goals but missed a 37-yarder in overtime in a Sugar Bowl defeat to Michigan.

Late in the regular season, missed kicks helped damage the still-flourishing national title hopes of Oklahoma State _ the beneficiary of Williamson’s mishits _ and Boise State.

Few can relate better than Foster.

“This is a rare year,” he said. “I think as teams get better, as recruiting gets stronger, teams are going to be more evenly matched and the role of the kicker is getting magnified. That’s going to continue to happen as the game progresses.”

In a game featuring the nation’s two premier defenses, it’s hardly far-fetched to imagine college football’s finale being decided by a kick made or missed.

Last season ended with Auburn’s Wes Byrum hitting a game-winning chip shot against Oregon.

Maybe this time it will be Shelley or Foster getting that shot. Or LSU’s Drew Alleman, whose overtime kick decided the first meeting. Alleman has been much steadier, making 16 of 18 attempts and hitting all three times from 40-49 yards.

Foster is just 2 of 9 a year after missing just twice in the same number of tries.

Shelley has been far more accurate within limited range, going 16 for 20 with a long of 37 yards.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said what happened in the previous meeting won’t impact decisions in this one.

“I mean, if you’re in the NFL and you’re kicking over 45-yard field goals, maybe you’re 33 or 40 percent,” Saban said. “And if you’re a baseball player and you hit .333, it probably gets you in the Hall of Fame. But I think what we’ve tried to do with our guys is say, `Look, you had a bunch of low percentage kicks in that game and we are confident in your ability to just stay focused on the process of what you need to do to make your best kick.’”

Foster, who frequently responded with a polite “yes sir” and “no sir” to reporters’ questions, said he’d relish the opportunity to win a national title with that much-maligned right leg.

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