What a Difference a Year Makes

As Texas finished its regular season Thanksgiving night with the annual Aggie game, a lot of Longhorns undoubtedly flashed back to the last time these two teams met.

And perhaps a flash is all that most ‘Horn fans would allow in trying to digest their turkey dinners. Anyway, who wants to dwell on the sewer when this regular season's been an oasis?

But it was that very gutter-like game one year ago that launched the Longhorns to where they are now—on the cusp of a Big XII title appearance and possibly an even bigger title game.

Back, for a moment though, to College Station. The final score at Kyle Field showed Texas A&M 38-Texas 30, but everyone watching knew it was really a stomping.

Close observers of Texas football got the feeling the program was bordering on disarray, nearly complete in its loss of the magic of just two years earlier, when it won its first national championship in over 35 years.

The 2007 victories—nine of them—mostly appeared "flukish" and the losses—three—indicated either an inability in the clutch (OU) or plain zombie-like emotion (A&M).

It marked the third year in succession the overall outmanned Aggies outplayed the Longhorns, the latter that had so dominated the series since Mack Brown took over in 1998.

Suffering a bit from the successes of the past, Mack might determine who started for the ‘Horns based on the "blood and sweat given to the national title" two years before. He also noted that "if you bench a senior starter, you can't go back to that senior later."

Some of us replied, "Yeah, but if you don't bench him for poor performance, he falls prey to the common enemy called "complacency." His teammates are going to question the wisdom of busting their butts all week in practice just to find said butts on the benches like the fans' come Saturday.

The crisis culminated with Texas showing the paltry kind of energy one imagines the current Aggie coach has getting out of bed most Sundays.

And Mack responded perfectly, opening up competition again in practice and benching some of those formerly comfy starters. Not surprisingly, Texas found its fire again, blowing out bowl opponent Arizona State in the process.

The Longhorn head coach didn't stop there. He moved defensive coordinator Duane Akina back to his customary spot as secondary coach and hired a top gun guy in Will Muschamp. The fire Texas rekindled for the Holiday Bowl would be fanned into a blaze with the former Auburn DC's intense leadership.

Mack further injected enthusiasm and aggressiveness with the hiring of Orangeblood hero Major Applewhite.

And what a contrast one year has made. Despite several question marks coming into '08, Texas has destroyed the teams it should have (three 52-10 scores its first four games attests plenty to that) and showed intestinal fortitude as deep as the ocean floor versus the heavyweights.

There may be no need to recap each contest here, but the game that best illustrates this team's champion intangibles is the Oklahoma contest. The Sooners, top-ranked at the time, looked as unstoppable in the early going against the Longhorns as they had all season.

In earlier Mack years, Texas may have folded up and suffered a rout of near-biblical proportions. Not this bunch.

Though handicapped without its highly talented tight end, the Longhorns refused to die, repeatedly overcoming the crimson current rushing against it. Finally, the relentless Longhorns overwhelmed the previously unbeaten Sooners, 45-35.

This Texas team isn't without talent. But it supposedly lacks the "superstar" element normally viewed of a national title contender—"supposedly," because Colt McCoy is arguably (perhaps inarguably) deserving of the Heisman trophy. Regardless, this bunch possesses the heart of a hero, and this more than anything else is why the ‘Horns are sitting where they are now.

As Mack earned much of the blame for the temporary slump following 2005, so too does he deserve a lot of credit for this year's resurrection. Kudos to the whole staff for assembling and developing the kind of team Texas fans can be proud of both for its character as well as its results.

Many of us couldn't imagine Texas letting the fans down against A&M yet again. That's because this close group of players wouldn't be willing to let each other down, and they didn't.

It's somehow fitting that the sharpest thorn in the ‘Horns' side, Aggie quarterback Stephen McGee, failed miserably in his attempts to again unseat Mack Brown's squad. The University of Texas, in the end, laughs the loudest.

Texas can only control its destiny so much, as the myriad of computers and pollsters' biases have the final say, perhaps sadly enough. But regardless of whether the ‘Horns play for bigger stakes, their Thanksgiving feast over Texas A&M put a perfect exclamation point on a superb regular season few expected.


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