Then, when the glut of preseason college football publications began hitting the bookstores last summer, every other magazine proclaimed that, indeed, this was Texas' year to win it all.
What, then, to make not just of this 9-2 season but of the highly touted senior class?
"I don't look at the proverbial national championships in recruiting because I've done it long enough that you don't have any clue about what you've got until they're finished," Brown said Tuesday. "If you evaluate this class on winning a national championship, that's not going to happen. If you evaluate this class on being one of the winningest groups, and maybe the winningest group in Texas football history, and also have a chance to win 11 games back-to-back for the first time in school history, then they've had a lot of great memories and given us a lot of great spots. They've helped our program get competitive and in the Top 10 like we wanted it to be."
In other words, the Class of 2003 may not be playing for a national title, but they are playing for that which would be unprecedented in Austin: consecutive 11-win seasons. Even 10-win seasons have been a rarity. The last time Texas won at least 10 games in consecutive years was back when Darrell Royal won a pair of national titles in 1969-70. (Of course, a 10-win season was of greater significance in Royal's day when teams played but 10 regular season games. Now, 12- and 13-game schedules are the norm rather than the exception).
"These guys have done an amazing job this year to overcome a lot of adversity, against one of the toughest schedules in the country and they've played really well," Brown said. "They're playing hard every week, they're in every ballgame, and I think we're in the neighborhood we need to be in. We just need to win all of the close games. You look at Ohio State this year. They've had five close games and they won them all. We've had five close games, and won four."
The Class of 2003 won two Big 12 South Division Titles, but were 0-2 in Big 12 Championship games. They are 1-3 against Oklahoma, but 2-1 against Nebraska and should go 3-1 against Texas A&M. They are 7-9 against ranked teams, but four of those losses came during their freshman season. In the ten seasons prior to their arrival, Texas finished unranked five times and had four non-winning seasons. The current seniors finished No. 21, No. 12 and No. 5 in the final AP poll the past three seasons and, with two more wins, should end up in the top six.
For the first time in 17 years, a group of Texas seniors will have played in four consecutive bowl games. The group will finish with an overall mark of 40-12 if it beats Texas A&M and wins its bowl game (or, 22-4 during their combined junior and senior seasons). The previous high-water mark was when the Class of ‘72 finished 39-5.
"This senior class is close to being our best senior class," Brown said, "so there's a whole lot to play for and they're real excited. I know our fans will come out and say thank you to this group of seniors that have been so good. I think it's been a very, very successful class and they've been a lot of fun. Very few of these young guys have gotten into any trouble. They've played some great football for us."
True dat, but what's it gonna take to win a national championship?
"Two games," Brown said. "I mean, that's it. We've said, and it's funny but it's not funny, the only devastating losses at Texas are the losses because don't plan on losing many. Thank goodness we haven't. We've got two more (games) this year, and we're going to try to win those two and get to 11 (wins) back-to-back for the first time in school history and then start back over again in the spring to try to be great again next year."