Bill Little commentary: The consistency of inconsistency
Through the rain of a dreary Sunday, which followed a dreary Saturday that followed Friday, the pieces of the 2007 college football season continued to defy imagination. The strangest season in recent college football history continues to baffle, confuse, frustrate and yes, disappoint, folks all the way from Austin, Texas, to Baton Rouge, La., to Los Angeles and beyond.
Nothing was as it seemed, and reality appeared to be an illusion. In a universe where everything thing is constantly changing, what all of us yearn for is consistency in something. And that, in the end, was the most frustrating thing for Mack Brown and his Texas Longhorns last Friday in College Station. In fact, the toughest part to understand about this season is that too often, it appeared the only consistency was inconsistency.
But then, that wasn't just about Texas; it was about everything related to this 2007 season in college football.
For a while, it appeared that there were three potentially great teams -- Southern Cal, LSU, and Oklahoma. Now, barring unforeseen circumstances, all three will not be playing in the National Championship game.
Saturday night was probably the greatest example of the twilight zone. Two years ago, at the conclusion of the 2005 season, college football fans were treated to the dream game in a match-up of No. 1 Southern Cal and No. 2 Texas. The whole setting exuded greatness. The players -- the Vince Youngs and Michael Huffs and the Matt Leinarts and the Reggie Bushes -- the perfect college football championship seemed to have been created.
And Saturday night, Kansas and Missouri played to figure out which team would be No. 1 going into the last weekend of the regular season of college football.
In College Station, Dick Tomey's oft-quoted theory of "It's not the best team that wins...it's the team that plays the best that day," became reality in Texas A&M's 38-30 victory over Texas. Rivalry games are painful to lose, and even though Texas A&M has found itself reduced to a spoiler's role rather than a contender's presence, the Aggies claimed bragging rights in the series for another year.
It was only the fifth loss to a Texas school (two to Tech and three to A&M) in Mack Brown's 10-year career at Texas, and it marked only the third Big 12 loss on an opponent's home field for the Longhorns in eight seasons of the 21st century.
While the play Friday and on other given Saturdays has been inconsistent for Texas, the one constant has been the overall success. At 9-3, Texas is the only team in the country to win at least nine games for each of the last 10 seasons, and a bowl victory would match last year's record of 10-3 and continue a string that has seen Texas as the only team to win at least 10 games each of the last six years.
At the beginning of the year, the Longhorns' 9-3 finish was a pretty consistent prediction from prognosticators. That is little solace, however, for a team and a program that aspires always to win all the games.
What people came to love about the team would be the thing that would eventually fail them in the end -- their uncanny ability to come from behind late in the game. Like the youngster who aces the final exam to record a good grade at the end of the semester, Texas had perfected that approach. And but for a missed tackle or two at the end, the Longhorns might well have done that one more time Friday.
The opening of the game at College Station unintentionally could well have been a cryptic testimony to the story of the 2007 season for Texas. As the Texas seniors approached midfield for the coin flip, they represented a group which had been part of winning teams in three bowl games, a Big 12 Championship and a National Championship. And the four leaders who went out to flip the coin were preseason all-Americans Limas Sweed, Tony Hills, Dallas Griffin and star defender Drew Kelson. All had been lost for the season with injury.
Still, a young offensive line which at one time had included Hills and Griffin, would be a part of one of the most productive offenses in Texas history over the season. The defense, which had lost five members of the secondary to the NFL over the last two seasons, struggled with injuries and never reached its hoped potential.
All of that is true, and worthy of note. But what matters now is what happens from here. The Longhorns will play a worthy opponent in a bowl game, and have a chance to achieve that 10th win, and to extend one of the nation's best current bowl records. Dating back to a 2001 victory in the Holiday Bowl, Texas has won five of its last six bowl games, including three in a row over Michigan, Southern Cal and Iowa.
So the "comeback kids" have one more chance to bounce back. The time off will allow for final exams, where the Longhorns -- who placed 23 players on the Big 12 All-Academic team -- will have a chance to continue what has been a gratifying run in the classroom. Griffin will represent the team at the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame dinner in New York, where he is one of a select group of scholar athletes and a finalist for the Draddy Award as the nation's top scholar-football player.
In a week or so, the Longhorns will know where they will be going for a bowl game, and who their opponent will be. They will then begin workouts, seeking the consistency of their predecessors in postseason play, and trying to insure that Texas' success at the end of the season remains a constant in a college football season full of strange twists, turns, and inconsistencies.