Nov. 14, 2008
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
It has become a ritual; one of the rites of autumn. The college football season is winding to a close, and the debate over who should be ranked what and going where at the end of the season is heating up. Saturday's trip to Lawrence for Texas to play the Kansas Jayhawks is no exception.
In a way, it is a return to one of the more significant moments in Longhorn history, because it was in a game against Kansas that Vince Young solidified his case for being immortal. Fourth and 18 will always be a part of Texas lore. Because that was the situation, with the Longhorns trailing late in the game against the Jayhawks, where Young stepped through the arms of a would-be tackler and ran for a first down.
The come-from-behind victory in 2004 kept Texas's hopes for a BCS appearance alive, and it was the launching pad that helped UT ease past California, and ultimately into a Rose Bowl berth against Michigan.
In many ways, it seems just yesterday, and in other ways, it seems a very long time ago.
But in a world where it seems the aging process triples with each season, it is interesting to see what has happened to the college football world since Vince's improbable jaunt.
Texas, of course, went on to win the Rose Bowl against Michigan.
That season, the final BCS standings listed Southern Cal as No. 1, Oklahoma as No. 2, Auburn as No. 3, Texas as No. 4, California as No. 5, Utah as No. 6, Georgia as No. 7, Virginia Tech as No. 8, Boise State as No. 9, and Louisville as No. 10.
It is important to remember that we are talking about four football seasons later now.
Of the Top 25 teams in the BCS in 2004, only eleven schools have the same coach as the season of 2008 winds down. And of the teams ranked in the BCS Top 10 with only a few games remaining, only Texas, Oklahoma and Southern Cal are roaming in the same area where they stood just four years ago.
So what happened? Here is a break down:
Pete Carroll's USC team is given only a remote chance to return to the National Championship game as it did in 2004. The Trojans are 8-1 with three games remaining. The 2004 season started Bob Stoops' Oklahoma Sooners' string of disappointing bowl losses to close the year that has now run through four straight games. Still, Oklahoma is 9-1 and needs to beat Texas Tech and Oklahoma State to get in the Big 12 Championship game.
Texas, of course, ran the "gauntlet" of four straight top 10 teams and came out 3-1. Mack Brown's Longhorns are currently ranked third in the BCS, but need to beat Kansas Saturday and Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night to put themselves into position to grab their third BCS bowl trip in the last five seasons.
And that is where history comes to a screeching halt.
Auburn, which was 13-0 that season, is break-even at 5-5, with games remaining with Georgia and Alabama.
California is 6-3, with Oregon State, Stanford and Washington left.
Urban Meyer, the Utah coach in 2004, has his Florida team in contention for national honors, and his old team, the Utes, is 10-0 with San Diego State and rival BYU still to play.
Georgia is 8-2, didn't make the SEC Championship game, and has Auburn and Georgia Tech to go.
Virginia Tech is 6-3, but still has to play Miami, Duke and Virginia.
Boise's 2008 team is unbeaten with three games left, but 2004 coach Dan Hawkins is fighting to break even in his new job at Colorado. The same is true for former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, who is 4-6 at Arkansas, while the Cardinals are struggling at 5-4 with three games left.
Besides Brown, Carroll, Stoops, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, California's Jeff Tedford, Georgia's Mark Richt, and Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer, the other "survivors" are Kirk Ferentz at Iowa (ranked 12 in 2004), Florida State's Bobby Bowden (16), Texas Tech's Mike Leach (22) and Ohio State's Jim Tressell (25).
All of this is a reminder of how quickly things can change, and how significant the consistency of excellence has become at Texas. With that, however, comes serious challenges, such as the one the Longhorns will face on the road in Kansas.
In their last two trips to Lawrence, good Texas teams struggled early against Kansas teams which were no where close to as good as the 2008 version of the Jayhawks. In 2000, the Longhorns fell behind, 14-0, before Chris Simms hooked up with Roy Williams and others for a 51-16 thrashing. Williams had four catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
The celebrated come back in 2004 that really solidified the legend of Vince Young included his famous fourth-and-18 scramble, and a touchdown pass to Tony Jeffrey with eleven seconds remaining.
Now, the 2008 Longhorns find themselves in the same place, at the same time of the season. When Mack Brown came to Texas, one of the premises on which he built his program was "they will remember November." Texas was superb down the stretch until 2006, when an injury to Colt McCoy set the stage for a Kansas State upset victory in Manhattan in this same game slot, and a loss to Texas A&M followed.
"Finishing," therefore, has been a prime emphasis of this 2008 club.
So they will go, this team with its unique chemistry, to Kansas. It will be the ninth straight weekend of football, and the physical toll is obvious. But where the body is bruised, the spirit sustains.
It is a credit to the program, and to the players, year after year, that they have put themselves in the neighborhood of the elite. And while the media and the fans study the polls and the computers, and even glance at times at history, Texas will try to maintain focus on one simple fact of football:
Play the game to win. Leave all the other stuff to somebody else.