Longhorns 'open' 2008 season with Holiday Bowl triumph
Perhaps the calendar said that the Longhorns' fourth trip to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego since 2000 was their final performance of 2007, but head coach Mack Brown and the players knew otherwise.
Texas' 52-34 thrashing of Pac-10 co-champion Arizona State actually was the start of the 2008 season for the Longhorns, who recorded their seventh straight 10-win season under Brown. It also was the fourth consecutive bowl game triumph for UT -- a school record. And, it was Texas' 10th straight bowl game -- also a record.
It was the most points scored by Texas in a bowl game victory and was seventh in the largest margin of victory in a bowl game.
How great was the night for UT?
Defensive tackle Derek Lokey caught a 2-yard touchdown pass in his final game as a Longhorn and became the first player in Texas history who was primarily a defensive player to score a touchdown since the days of one platoon football.
"Our guys did everything we asked of them," Brown said of the team's practices leading up to the Holiday Bowl encounter.
"This (win) gives us tremendous momentum going into spring practice," he added. "This win will keep us in the top 15, where we belong. Hopefully, we'll start next season in the top five."
"These kids have won a lot of games, so they thought they were going to win," Brown said.
That kind of belief was evident in come-from-behind victories against Nebraska and Oklahoma State.
Even with McCoy back at quarterback following a stellar 2006, the integration of new players in the offensive line caused the Horns to be inconsistent offensively at the outset of the year, especially in the running game.
That ended in a big way when junior running back Jamaal Charles had a breakout game of 290 yards against Nebraska.
He went for 180 yards and 174 yards against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, respectively.
Those performances belatedly thrust Charles into Hesiman conversations in '07. He finished with 1,619 yards on the season, but announced right after New Year's Day that he was leaving to go to the NFL, skipping his senior season.
Brown sensed added confidence in his players down the stretch.
Even then he noted, "We still have lots of things we can fix."
Of course, Brown told those gathered for Big 12 Media Day in late July that lofty predictions for his team might be premature.
"We have a lot of question marks with our team," he said then.
McCoy, who tied the NCAA mark for touchdown passes by a freshman with 29 and who became the first UT freshman QB to win 10 games in a season, was impacted the most by an offensive line that was learning on the job.
Without a consistent running game, McCoy was under siege much of the early season. His leadership was apparent as the team stayed together during the trying start.
And, he still managed to fall only 54 yards shy of the UT single-season mark for yards passing with 3,303. The on-the-job training was evident on the other side of the ball, too. The secondary was tested early and often, yielding un-Texas-defense-like yardage totals through the air.
"Inconsistency was the biggest thing all season," said Duane Akina, the co-defensive coordinator who called the plays for the first time in 2007.
But, that was last season.
For the Longhorns, 2008 already has begun.