Longhorns Believe They're Still In Title Race

Texas head coach Mack Brown has tried to ensure no letdown for his team in the Fiesta Bowl by telling the Longhorns they still have a chance to win a share of the national championship. Also, find out what role Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis played in the maturation of Texas QB Colt McCoy.

Texas head coach Mack Brown is a laid-back guy whose easy Southern drawl puts listeners at ease. That personality could be the reason why some have opined the Longhorns may have trouble with their metal preparation for the Buckeyes.

OSU would do well not to be taken in by Brown's easy-going demeanor. He has found a novel way to ensure that his team keeps its mind firmly on the task at hand.

Although they will not play Jan. 8 in Miami for the BCS National Championship, Brown and his coaching staff have drilled into their players that they are indeed playing for a share of the title.

"From what I understand, we can still win it," Texas senior running back Chris Ogbonnaya said. "I don't really know what needs to happen, and obviously we can't talk about being in the national championship picture without having a victory against Ohio State. But our coaches have told us that if we take care of business in this game, we have a chance."

There is a precedent for the Longhorns' way of thinking. While the Bowl Championship Series awards its national championship trophy to the team that wins the title game, The Associated Press continues to award its own national crown based upon its final media poll. Following the 2003, LSU won the BCS championship game but the AP elected to give its national championship to Southern California.

The last four winners of the national title – USC in 2004, Texas in 2005, Florida in 2006 and LSU in 2007 – were clear-cut consensus champions. This year, however, the perception is that the No. 3-ranked Longhorns deserved to play for the title because their 45-35 win over Oklahoma in October. That was the only loss this year for the Sooners, who play second-ranked Florida in the BCS title game.

Texas lost its only game of the 2008 season in early November, making a miraculous late comeback against then-undefeated Texas Tech before bowing 39-33 when the Red Raiders scored a touchdown with 0:01 remaining in the game. Oklahoma later routed Texas Tech, 65-21, in mid-November, throwing the final Big 12 standings into a three-way tie.

Since the conference uses the final regular-season BCS standings to break division ties for its championship game, No. 1 Oklahoma aced out No. 3 Texas for the South Division spot in the title contest against North champion Missouri.

"We're disappointed – we're human after all," Texas quarterback Colt McCoy said. "We felt like we had done the things we needed to do to be able to be in the Big 12 championship game. We had beaten both teams that played in it."

That disappointment was underscored when Oklahoma parlayed its 62-21 win over Missouri in the Big 12 championship into a berth in the national title game.

"Sure, we were disappointed," Brown said. "Our kids worked extremely well and played extremely well all season, and we thought they were deserving of playing for the national championship. But we talked about it when it happened and then put it in the past. There was no use dwelling on something that was out of control, and especially so when we have the chance to play a team like Ohio State that presents such a great challenge."


They say every good quarterback has an innate ability to forget his last interception. That may be true, but McCoy said he remembers the first one of his college career.

"It was to James Laurinaitis," McCoy said. "I remember it was the game in '06 and I threw my first pick ever to Laurinaitis. Threw it right to him. I remember that for sure."

McCoy said he learns almost as much from the mistakes he makes as from his successes. In fact, he has looked back frequently at the Ohio State game in 2006, his second career start when the Longhorns absorbed a 24-7 loss in Austin.

"I remember they were ranked No. 1 in the country, we were at home and they came in there and beat us," McCoy said. "You learn a lot from losing. For one thing, you learn how it feels and you don't like that feeling. That was probably the biggest thing I took out of that."

Texas took the knowledge gleaned from that loss and proceeded to string together eight victories in a row, finishing the 2006 season with a 10-3 record that was topped off by a 26-24 win over Iowa in the Alamo Bowl.

In fact, since losing that '06 game to the Buckeyes, the Longhorns are 30-6 with McCoy under center.

"I know I have become a lot better player than what I was the last time we played them," the UT quarterback said. "I've overcome a lot of things, but I've been blessed to be able to play two more years and play successfully with a group of guys who have made me better."


** Ohio State senior co-captain Malcolm Jenkins said he heard it again Thursday night after Penn State and Michigan State took it on the chin in their respective bowl games – the Big Ten is an antiquated conference whose teams lack the necessary team speed to keep up with Pac-10 and SEC opponents.

""I just think it's a misconception," Jenkins said. "The misconception comes in when they talk about speed with perimeter guys. When you talk about interior guys that these other conferences have – smaller but faster guys – we have the big, muscle guys.

"So, yeah, in the interior, I think there is a little bit of difference in the speed. But if you are talking about just perimeter guys, I don't think there is any difference."

** With his thoughtful, concise answers to sometimes offbeat questions, Ogbonnaya has been one of the go-to guys for media members covering the Fiesta Bowl. It's no wonder. The senior has already graduated with a degree in history and is currently completing his second degree with a 3.33 GPA in corporate communications. He has already taken the LSAT exam and is considering attending law school or graduate school in advertising.

** The Fiesta Bowl features two of the five active Division I-A coaches with at least 200 career victories. Joe Paterno of Penn State tops the list with 383 victories followed by Bobby Bowden of Florida State with 382. Virginia Tech's win over Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl pushed Frank Beamer into third place all alone with 219 victories, one more than Ohio State's Jim Tressel. Brown sits in fifth place with exactly 200 wins.

** In the 11 years prior to Brown's arrival in Austin, the Longhorns went to only five bowls and were 2-3. Under Brown, the team is making its 11th consecutive postseason appearance and is 7-3 in those games. Brown is the first UT coach since the legendary Darrell K. Royal (1957-76) to post a .500 record or better in bowl games.

Here are links to BuckeyeSports.com's other Fiesta Bowl stories from Arizona:

Boeckman Continues To Be Stand-Up Guy For OSU

Pryor Noticeably Absent From Media Day

Maybe Two QBs For OSU, Maybe Not

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