McCoy, Ross Writing Storybook Endings

Can a RS-freshman quarterback, playing in the shadow of a Longhorn legend, get an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York next month? Can a cornerback playing for the nation's No. 106 pass defense, and who failed to make any preseason Watch Lists, be the frontrunner for the Thorpe Award honoring the nation's top defensive back?

For now, Colt McCoy and Aaron Ross are living a rags-to-riches story, even at a storied program renowned for its abundance of resources and blue-chip talent. One year ago, you knew Texas would have a QB in the Heisman race. But who woulda thunk it would be McCoy? During the preseason, you knew Texas would have a leading candidate for the Thorpe Award. But who woulda thunk it would be Ross?

Ross was named a Thorpe Award semifinalist Tuesday, one of 11 Division-I standouts who made the short list. Three finalists will be named at the end of the month. Meanwhile, McCoy was No. 4 in last week's Rocky Mountain News service poll, whose panelists have almost invariably determined the Heisman winner.

"Colt has done as well as anybody in the country," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "There's no question about that."

Ohio State's Troy Smith has been the Heisman frontrunner since the Buckeyes topped Texas on September 9, but the fact that McCoy is now considered a viable candidate speaks to the extraordinarily successful season he has enjoyed. His 172.2 passer rating is now No. 2 nationally and has completed 170-of-246 passes (69.1 percent) for 2,051 yards. McCoy has more attempts than all but seven of the other QBs listed in this week's Top 20 for passing efficiency. He set a new Longhorn single-season record with his 27th TD pass Saturday, trailing the NCAA record for freshman QBs by just two.

"If he doesn't get the Heisman, he's at least a First-Team All-American," SS Michael Griffin said. "You've got to give the kid something."

More than likely, 'the kid' will be given Big 12 'Offensive Freshman of the Year' as well as First-Team All-Big 12 honors. Ross certainly has a firmer grasp on the Thorpe than McCoy has on the Heisman.

"It's an honor to be on the list of the top 11 DBs in the country but, most of all, it's a blessing," Ross said Tuesday. "It's a blessing to have been able to come this far from nothing. My mom always told me, 'The first shall be last and the last shall be first.' I live by these little quotes that my mom gives me. She's real spiritual, and I'm a spiritual guy."

Ross has 62 tackles, four INTs, 17 PBU, 22 passes defended, three forced fumbles, two recoveries and two TDs. Collectively, it represents the most impressive numbers among Thorpe candidates.

"If anyone's playing better than Aaron, I'd be shocked," Brown said. "Aaron should be a major factor in the Thorpe. He's changed games for us, and that's what national players do."

Most pigskin pundits thought during the season that the Thorpe Award had Griffin's name written all over it. Ten games later, Griffin has become more of a sidekick to Ross whose meteoric ascension on the national scene began with Texas' 28-10 win against Oklahoma. Or, as Griffin puts it: "Aaron Ross is Michael Jackson and I'm Tito."

We won't press the analogy but, suffice it to say, Griffin is not disheartened that his sidekick stands in the very spotlight that many thought would be reserved for the senior SS.

"There is nothing you can knock about Aaron Ross right now," Griffin said. "I'm glad Aaron Ross is on my team instead of someone else's team. He makes my job a lot easier."

Ross has been responsible for nine take-aways in the past seven games, leading directly to 38 points. His three thefts against OU (two INTs, one fumble return for TD) in the fourth quarter sealed the deal against the Sooners, representing the most take-aways in a single quarter in program history.

The OU game was also the launching pad for McCoy, garnering the notoriety that any freshman QB would command after engineering a win in such an overheated rivalry and on such a national stage. McCoy was 11-of-18 passing for 108 yards, two TDs and no INTS against the Sooners. He was treated to a standing ovation when he walked into government class the following Monday. But will the applause carry over to Heisman voters when the finalists are announced in a few weeks?

Brown may have surprised some folks when he said immediately after the Oklahoma State, a night in which McCoy threw for a personal-best 346 yards, that he didn't think a freshman should be considered for the Heisman. To some extent, Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis concurred later in the week.

"I've always thought it was more of be a body of work," Davis said. "If it happens, that'd be great, His numbers are worthy if we win enough. If it happens, he'll handle it and we'll be thrilled for Texas. We'll certainly use it in recruiting."

Under Brown, Texas does not launch glitzy campaigns for its awards candidates, Heisman or otherwise. The line of thought is that Texas' athletes are plenty high-profile and that, if the team wins, highly-productive will be noticed and duly honored.

"'Colt has done everything we've asked him to do," Brown said. "If (the media) thinks he should be in that position (for the Heisman), then put him there. I don't get a vote. My vote this week is to beat Kansas State."


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