It's Showtime, Folks!

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The hype preceding the Rose Bowl National Championship game between No. 2 Texas and top-ranked USC has bordered on unprecedented. Now, there's nothing left but to play a little football. The stage is set for the most eagerly anticipated and critical Longhorn football game in nearly three decades.

In fact, the stage was set months before the BCS teams were announced on December 4.

"We're the only two teams playing out of 119," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "It's the only two undefeated teams in the country. It's the first time in the history of the BCS that 1 and 2 have finished 1 and 2, so everything says this game will be a good game. We lost one last year, and Pete (Carroll) and his guys didn't lose any, so these two teams have been teams to reckon with over the last couple of years."

A couple of times during Mack Brown's final pre-Rose Bowl press conference, the lights unexpectedly dimmed, leaving a spotlight on the Texas coach. There had been power failures throughout the day as a result of a torrential Pacific storm that lashed the area, but the effect in the Beverly Hilton ballroom Tuesday morning was that of a movie premiere with Brown on center stage. It was an apropos image given the fact that, in the land of movie premieres, Texas and USC are now (relatively speaking) the only show in town.

"These two teams have been talked about for a month," Brown said. "It's a fun and exciting thing but now it's time to let the games begin."

Players have dissected countless of hours of game film and have fielded the same questions, over and again, from the media throng that has increased daily since the Horns arrived here seven days ago. The 2005 Longhorns have practiced for the last time. They've taken their walk-through at the Rose Bowl. Now, they'll try to get some sleep.

For them, and for Horn fans, Wednesday, January 4, could not get here fast enough. Texas QB Vince Young echoed the sentiments of Horn fans everywhere, many of whom have waited a lifetime for this game, when he said, "I'm sick of watching film. I'm ready to play."

He's also ready to dispel the widespread notion that the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

"I feel like they've already given them the national championship and we haven't played yet," Young added. "Bring it on. I say, bring it on! We've got so many different weapons and so many different plays on offense."

Brown lauded both programs for the respectful way the squads have treated the other. For SS Michael Huff, Wednesday's game is personal.

"I want to cover the Heisman winner," said the Thorpe Award winner. "Before you can say you're the best, you've got to cover the best. I look forward to the competition. I'm a competitor."

The general demeanor of frontline Longhorns has been California cool and supremely confident, despite the fact that USC's offense has been billed the greatest in college football history with its gaudy 580 yards-per-game.

"I can't imagine anybody's offense running up and down the field on us," said All-American LDT Rodrique Wright. "I'm on the other side of the ball, so I'm not going to say someone is going to march down the field on our defense."

Added MLB Aaron Harris: "Everybody knows what we can do defensively. We've got guys who can make big plays just by being in the right position."

The general consensus is that Texas brings the best defense that USC has faced all season, but that its weakest link is its rush defense. The Horns are No. 4 in scoring defense (14.6 ppg), No. 5 against the pass (155.9 ypg), No. 6 overall (280.3 ypg) but No. 30 against the run (124.4 ypg).

"You've got to play low and use your hands," Wright said. "It's the same thing we've been doing all year. They're a great offensive line, very experienced and big up front. We've got to bring the physical game back to them that they're going to bring to us. A lot of people are talking about how we have to handle Reggie Bush, but they have to handle Vince Young. Both defenses are facing someone that they haven't faced before. They've got their hands full as well."

Hands down: the moment Horn fans have been waiting for is at hand!


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