Having reclaimed the White House, Texans can now focus on the
more difficult part of establishing world order: a return to the
top of the college football kingdom. This is no laughing matter
in the Lone Star State, particularly among Texas football
players, who would huddle before and after their summer workouts,
raise the Hook 'em Horns salute and break the huddle shouting,
"One, two, three, Pasadena!" It's also serious business to
sophomore receiver Roy Williams, whose cell phone displays rose
bowl! when it's turned on. "Everybody has his mind set on getting
to Pasadena," Williams says. "We want to win the national
championship, and if we want to win it, we need to start acting
like a national championship team."
Forgive the Longhorns if they've forgotten how to walk and talk
like champions: They haven't won the national title since 1970.
They haven't even been ranked No. 1 since Oct. 9, 1984. Since its
last championship, the program has endured bad bounces (a fumbled
punt in the '84 Cotton Bowl cost Texas a 12-0 season), NCAA
probation (one year in 1982 for a ticket-scalping infraction
involving wide receiver Johnny "Lam" Jones), the second-worst
loss in school history (66-3 to UCLA in 1997) and former coach
John Mackovic's bright orange neckties.
Now the Horns, to borrow a Texas idiom, are fixin' to do
something about it. Fourth-year coach Mack Brown has put together
three straight unofficial top five recruiting classes, giving
Texas as deep and talented a roster as the Florida States and
Nebraskas. The Horns also have 17 returning starters. Above all,
they're beginning to recognize how far they've come and how close
they really are. "We've got talented guys and depth at every
position," says junior cornerback Roderick Babers. "Now's the
time to bring something home to Texas."
Yet doubts still hang over the Horns. How can a team that last
year lost 63-14 to Oklahoma (a defeat that prompted some around
Austin to dub Brown a "February coach," with lots of recruits and
little to show for it) be considered a serious title contender?
How can a program that is 2-6 against ranked opponents over the
last two years conquer the nation's elite? How can a team that
hasn't gotten past Oct. 1 undefeated since 1985 make it through
Jan. 3 without a loss? How can a coach who has never won a
conference championship win a national championship?
A scan of the roster provides some answers. Junior quarterback
Chris Simms (page 82), who torched Texas A&M for 383 yards and
three touchdowns in the regular-season finale, has displaced
Major Applewhite as the leader of an offense that scored 38.6
points a game. The offensive line has back everyone but left
tackle Leonard Davis, and freshman running back Cedric Benson,
who ran for 8,423 yards at Lee High in Midland (the fourth-best
total in Texas schoolboy history), has the ability to play
immediately. "Joe Paterno told me that you lose a game for every
freshman you start," Brown says. "So maybe we'll wait until the
second play to put Cedric in."
The most gifted player at Texas, and possibly in all of college
football, is Williams. He's 6'5", 210 pounds, can run 100 meters
in 10.4 seconds, long-jump 25'6" and high-jump 6'10". He also has
magnets for hands. "His physical attributes are freaky," Babers
says. "He's so big, you don't think he'll run the way he can, but
he'll blow past you."
On defense--Texas ranked seventh nationally last season--the need
is for speed. In an effort to combat the spread attacks the
Longhorns will face (Houston, Texas Tech and Oklahoma), the
coaches have moved cornerbacks to safety, safeties to linebacker,
linebackers to defensive end and ends to tackle. Says Brown,
"It's not a game for slow guys anymore."
He's right. Times have changed in college football. The Longhorns
are counting on it.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN WILLIAMSON The "freaky" Williams, only a sophomore, might be the most physically gifted player in college football.
2000 record: 9-3 (7-1, 2nd Big 12 South)
Final ranking: No. 12 AP, No. 12 coaches' poll
Texas record for career passing yards, held by second-string
quarterback Major Applewhite.
FIVE KEY RETURNEES
QB Chris Simms [Jr.]
383-yard passing day third best at Texas
WR Roy Williams [So.]
Big 12 offensive freshman of the year
CB Quentin Jammer [Sr.]
Led Horns with 20 pass breakups last fall
LB De'Andre Lewis [Sr.]
Team-record five fumble recoveries in 2000
DE Cory Redding [Jr.]
Led team with 6.5 sacks, 22 QB pressures
An opposing team's coach sizes up the Longhorns
"They struggled running the ball last season but will emphasize
it this year.... If you look at tape of Chris Simms later in the
year, he looks more comfortable. You've got to take care of Roy
Williams and the other receivers.... The defense, when you take
its starting 11 top to bottom, could be the most talented in the
country.... Quentin Jammer is a tremendous athlete, but they
move him around so much. His fundamentals were shaky at corner,
and he wasn't comfortable. He made good plays at safety, but he
didn't have a good feel for that position.... The linebackers
[D.D. Lewis, Everick Rawls and Tyrone Jones] run well. They're
good sideline to sideline, but I don't know if they're physical
enough. Linebackers should be filling gaps violently. They kind
of watch and get caught up in the wash. A lot of it has to do
with the stunt package for the guys up front. They might get an
offensive lineman to blow an assignment, but if the offensive
linemen take their gap responsibility, they can stop the stunts."
Strength: 48th of 117
Sept. 1 NEW MEXICO STATE
8 NORTH CAROLINA
22 at Houston
29 TEXAS TECH
Oct. 6 vs. Oklahoma*
13 at Oklahoma State
27 at Missouri
Nov. 3 at Baylor
23 at Texas A&M