Texas coaches, players and fans lavished humanitarian comforts and condolences upon A&M following the Bonfire tragedy, only to be treated like unwanted stepchildren in return. Numerous pathetic referee calls among distractions relating directly to the tragedy played significant roles in the Aggies topping the Longhorns on the scoreboard that late November day in '99 at Kyle Field.
A week after the Aberration in College Station, the Nebraska Cornhuskers craved payback following a string of three hurtful defeats at the hands of Texas, and received a measure of it with a 22-6 thumping of UT in the Big 12 title contest. Without superb overall defensive play by the Longhorns, that contest was a 40-0 rout waiting to happen. The stop unit, in fact, scored Texas' only points that day. Husker fans, though a model in sportsmanship, must have relished the win a little extra that day and felt at least a degree of in-your-face satisfaction in claiming the conference crown.
Next, on New Year's Day 2000, came the Arkansas Razorbacks, seemingly still allowing the "Big Shootout" of 1969 and a multitude of other defeats to gnaw away at their insides, as evidenced by the obnoxious post-game behavior of their head coach, Houston Nutt. Several Pig fans were also witnessed acting much like the spoiled brat who lorded over the fact he got the best present in the group. The Hogs' win over the Horns in the Cotton Bowl undoubtedly made their season a triumphant one.
[Note: when referring below to "BCS conference opponents," or very similar terms, this indicates any school–even Baylor, for instance–that belongs to a BCS conference. Not to be confused with the top 16 teams in the BCS poll.]
Arkansas–Houston Nutt, following 1999, appeared to have the Hogs on the path toward Frank Broyles-like success. He had, after all, just beaten the hated Horns in the Cotton Bowl, capping back-to-back seasons of 9-3 and 8-4 in his first two years in Fayetteville. Despite the fact that UT's former SWC rivals dropped two of their last four regular season games in '99 by 22 and 25 points and then beat a Texas squad without two of its best players and spiritual leaders (Kwame Cavil and Aaron Humphrey), a casual observer would have thought, given the red-clad reaction, that the Hogs' victory over the Horns was a Super Bowl conquest. Arkansas fans have not felt such euphoria since.
2000–Nutt's third squad pig-slopped its way to a 5-6 record against Division I-A teams (6-6 overall). It managed only a 3-5 mark against BCS conference schools, and closed out with a 31-14 defeat in the Las Vegas Bowl to UNLV, a Big West team with only a 7-5 record. Included in the woeful season were conference defeats of 31, 20 and 43 points.
2001–minor improvement at best; a 6-5 record against I-A opponents, 4-5 versus BCS conference opponents, and 4-4 in the SEC (compared with 3-5 the year before).
2002–won the first two lightweight bouts against Boise State and South Florida, but followed that with a 30-12 defeat in front of the biggest home crowd in Razorback history to an Alabama team playing only for pride. The ranking of No. 1 against the run proved groundless as the Crimson Tide, without its starting tailback, rushed for 267 yards. Overall, the Tide rolled up 552 yards, and did so also without their starting quarterback (instead playing a freshman the whole way) and their All-American-caliber center for much of the game. Many Hog fans ranted on the Internet boards afterward about how Nutt has made elusive quarterback Matt Jones into a statue, and how badly the offensive coordinator needs to be fired. Things may only get tougher, as the team travels to Knoxville to take on Tennessee next.
Nebraska–The Cornhuskers, despite several uncharacteristically poor outings beginning late last season, nonetheless have won a mind-numbing 70 of their past 71 contests in Lincoln. The only defeat came at the hands of the Longhorns back on Halloween day in 1998. Texas will make its first return to that location this fall. Based on the recent performance of the Husker program, the Horns stand a good shot at repeating history. With home contests versus McNeese State and Missouri before the encounter with UT, Nebraska should be riding a current home win streak of 25 games. If the Horns are to take the Huskers again, this seems the most opportune season in many, considering Big Red has dropped four of its last seven games–all by large margins.
2000–following a 12-1 Big 12 title season in 1999, the Cornhuskers fell slightly in the win-loss mark, to 10-2, but more importantly failed to even win their own division.
2001–despite several weeks ranked No. 1 in the country, the season left a bad taste in the mouths of Nebraska fans. Big Red was steamrolled at Colorado, 62-36, to close the regular season, and then was dominated by Miami in the national title game, 37-14. Miami blew out to a 34-0 halftime lead, so the final score wasn't even indicative of the Hurricanes' force. Once again, the Huskers fell shy of even winning their own division.
2002–with the departure of Heisman winner Eric Crouch combined with a suddenly generous defense, Nebraska now seems to be nothing more than a mediocre football team. The main question is whether the incredible string of 33 straight nine-plus win seasons will continue. Considering any bowl invite will yield at least a 14-game schedule, the Huskers may well garner those nine wins somewhere along the line. At this point, though, the oddsmakers are probably wagering on such an event. The seemingly eternal streak of weeks in the polls (since 1981) finally ended with the recent loss to Iowa State. Against BCS conference foes, Nebraska is now just 1-2 this season, has lost four of its last five, including two straight, and been outscored in those defeats by an average margin of 44-18. The status quo remains no more, and many wonder if Solich was the proper choice to replace the legendary Osborne.
Texas A&M–The Aggies, following that controversial Kyle Field win in 1999 noted above, felt they had bragging rights over the Horns. They could claim two out of the last three (though both wins were in large part due to unusual circumstances), and had just won the Big 12 title the previous season. They also basked in the fact that A&M had won nearly 20 games in '98 and '99, and owned a 19-game home winning streak (which later reached 22) heading into the '00 season.
2000–The dip from the 11-3 title season in 1998 to 8-4 in '99 proved to be more the beginning of a full-fledged trend of decay instead of a temporary and slight drop-off, as shown by the '00 season. The Aggies ended with a 7-5 record, finalized by a fourth straight bowl defeat, to ex-A&M coach Jackie Sherrill and Mississippi State. The home-winning streak ended with a surprising defeat to a 3-8 Colorado team. Though turning in a valiant effort, the Ags suffered a second home loss at the hands of top-ranked Oklahoma. Other leaks: a 5-5 record versus BCS-eligible conference (including Notre Dame) opponents; allowed 121 points (40.3 ppg) the last three contests–all losses. [Ironic that A&M closed out its season similar to Texas the previous season.]; and those late season defeats included a 43-17 loss to revenge-minded UT.
2001–A&M only amassed a 7-4 record versus I-A opponents, and had to fight with everything it had to finally upend I-AA McNeese State at home. A 5-0 start, which made most Aggies giddy, proved a mirage. Included in those wins was an eight-point struggle over two-win Wyoming and a six-point survival at home over three-win Baylor. The Ags defeated one team all year with a winning record (7-5 Iowa State). Similar to the 2000 cratering, the '01 version lost its last three regular season games, and by an average of 16 points per contest, scoring a total of 17 points. Versus BCS conference opposition, A&M managed a 5-4 record. For the second straight year (and five of the last seven), the Aggies fell to the Longhorns, this time in College Station, 21-7.
2002–The win-loss record may show three victories against only one defeat, but the Ags are only 1-1 versus BCS conference schools. The loss was another home contest, which placed A&M's Kyle Field mark against BCS conference schools in its last nine contests at a middling 5-4, effectively eliminating the notion that A&M is still unbeatable at home. Since October of 2000, the Farmers have won only one home contest against BCS-eligible conference schools. Clearly, the root of the problem is head coach R.C. Slocum. The Aggies have scored all of 34 points in their last five games versus BCS conference opponents. It is likely his meddling in the offense, changing offensive coordinators almost annually (the latest just a few days ago), and his general inability to coach the offensive side of the ball, that has led to more woes in Aggieland than at anytime since the pre-Sherrill era.
Since those season-ending defeats at the hands of three programs covered above, Texas possesses the best outlook. It has a better post-1999 record than even Nebraska, and certainly better than A&M or Arkansas. The Longhorns have defeated the Aggies the last two games head-to-head, and reside 21 spots ahead of them in the current polls (No. 2 compared with No. 23). Nebraska and Arkansas, meanwhile, are not even ranked in either of the two main polls. With numerous recruiting victories also factored in, the Horns should continue to outperform the Hogs, Huskers, and Aggies over the long haul. Orangebloods no longer need fear those three, but should instead relish the opportunity to play them.
Bert Hancock has owned two college football-related web sites and was designated "Lead Writer" of one of the first independent web sites dedicated strictly to UT sports. At the University of Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Business degree, his area of specialty was in statistics and probabilities. His "Strength In Numbers" column will appear weekly on InsideTexas.com.