Bevo-Sized Chip On Their Shoulders?

To a man, every Longhorn on hand at the Big 12 Football Media Conference, held last week in Kansas City, was surprised to learn that Oklahoma was the media's choice to win the league's South Division. And that, my friends, is a good thing.

Sure, players diplomatically responded with the benign rhetoric of not getting caught up in pre-season predictions. But there was no masking the team's infectious swagger effected by ending the five-year skid against the Sooners, not to mention beating Ohio State on its own grass on the way to the program's fourth national championship. In short, previous Horns spoke of their "hope" to win the title; now, they expect it.

"I believe, without a doubt, that we're going to go back to the national championship," said CB Aaron Ross. "Losing Vince (Young) is a big deal, but Coach (Mack) Brown does a great job of recruiting. We always have someone to replace the person that leaves."

And therein lies the rationale. Young's early departure cost Texas the 2006 national championship. That, in essence, has determined the perspective of not only Big 12 media but the national pundits, as well.

"After Vince left, it changed our position nationally," Brown said. "If he had returned, people would have thought that we would have had a great chance to repeat (as national champions). Now, we're not even picked to win our own division."

In fact, Texas was the media's choice as a distant second in the South. The Sooners collected 23 first-place votes while the Horns mustered up five. It didn't matter that OU's offensive line is one of the most suspect in the Big 12. It didn't matter that Sooner WRs are untested. Texas's defensive front is shaping up as the finest of Brown's nine-year tenure. Depth is a concern in the Longhorn secondary, but the starters stay healthy and backups continue to progress at the level that Brown says they have, the Horns will boast the league's top DBs. Oklahoma's lofty preseason ranking is based largely on the premise that RS-sophomore QB Rhett Bomar has finally settled into the offense and that RB Adrian Peterson will pick up right where he left off during his freshman campaign that saw him finish runner-up in the Heisman balloting.

"I don't think there's any doubt in anybody's mind that we can win it all," said safety Michael Griffin. "Without Vince Young or without Michael Huff, we want to go out there and be our own team. It's not about those players any more; it's about us. They're out making money and having a great life. And we're trying to get to the same level that they're at."

The Horns are also determined to prove that Young didn't win the national championship all by his lonesome. This conviction, they believe, has translated into a renewed emphasis on 'team' as evidenced by the 100 percent turnout during voluntary summer workouts.

"I don't think the team felt like Vince beat USC by himself," said RT Justin Blalock. "It's easier to single-out quarterbacks. He's never taken all the credit. (laughing) He couldn't block. I'd say our chances of repeating are very good with the talent we have coming back -- our receivers, our backs, our line. Our defense is going to be incredible."

The hungriest Horn may actually be the one who dropped 16 pounds with the intent of playing an entire season in tip-top shape. Oft-injured RB Selvin Young wants to have a bigger role in this year's championship drive than he did when he was limited the first half of the season with ankle injuries.

"I still feel like that no team in the country can hang with us for four quarters," Young said. "That's our mindset when we're out there doing the things we're doing during the summer."

But if the Horns believe they still have something to prove, then so does an Oklahoma team that finished 8-4 in 2005.

"We've got a lot to prove," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "We're an 8-4 football team a year ago, and the bottom line is we need to be a more disciplined, tougher and better football team if we're going to have a chance to compete for a Big 12 Championship."

Preseason predictions are typically for fans and media. But, as Blalock pointed out: "We weren't picked to win it all last year, either."

The Horns officially report for preseason camp on Sunday, August 6.


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