Springboard To Even Bigger Things

Now the master of bowls, Mack Brown was still dubbed Coach February in the middle of 2004. The label tied to his recruiting acumen was more a mocking moniker given to the Texas head coach for never having won a conference title, nor even reaching a BCS bowl despite six seasons at the helm of one of the winningest schools in the history of college football.

Oh, Mack had won a lot of games, but that no longer placated a fandom that started longing for despised John Mackovic's conference titles and big bowl invites (even if not for his poor personality and defenses).

Texas had a championship-caliber quarterback in Vince Young, but though his exploits were sometimes jaw-dropping, to that point, his leadership hadn't taken Texas any further than any other QB coached by Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

For 2004, Mack's program had followed the same, now tired pattern of several wins but a defeat to OU. What's more, this Texas team, despite having "Superman" at QB, failed to even score a point against the Sooners, even with great first half field position. The parallels to prior seasons under Mack looked precise. Who could expect more at this point?

But whatever remnants of Clark Kent at quarterback that had been on display in '03 and midway through '04 vanished at notoriously tough Lubbock. Texas had lost there two of the last three trips against Texas Tech and narrowly averted a serious toe-stub in Austin to the Red Raiders the year before. Mike Leach's squad had just destroyed Nebraska 70-10 at home, making it 11 wins in the last 12 at its friendly confines, and had two weeks to prepare for the hated ‘Horns. Texas, as a rare underdog, roared to a 51-21 triumph that ushered in the "real" Vince Young era.

Even with a six-game winning streak to close the '04 campaign, Texas again found itself in the well-worn passenger seat to OU, but it also gave Mack Brown his first BCS invite, to be paired in the "Granddaddy of Them All," the Rose Bowl. What's more, Texas would be facing Michigan, the winningest program of all time and very familiar with the historic bowl's hoopla.

The one-loss Longhorns, though the obvious favorite to the twice-beaten Wolverines, found themselves in a hole late in the game. But Vince Young engineered a dramatic fourth quarter comeback, finishing with five touchdowns, including four running and one passing.

In front of the cameras after the one-point Texas triumph, Vince playfully but hauntingly promised, "We'll be baaaaack." And he and the Longhorns delivered in returning to the Rose Bowl, where the national title game was played following the 2005 season.

No teams or seasons are fully alike, but it's fun to speculate if the many commonalities between 2004 and 2008 increase the chances that 2009 will be a special season for the burnt orange.

It's difficult to call 2004's squad featuring Vince Young and Cedric Benson as lacking superstar talent. But, like this year's group, it did feature less than what it was accustomed to, in no small part due to the loss of the Big Three receiving crew that included Roy Williams.

With that comparative "dearth" of material in mind, Texas lost just once in both 2004 and 2008, those being away from home to then unbeaten conference enemies (Oklahoma in '04, Texas Tech in '08). As well, Texas could count non-conference games against Arkansas and Rice—former SWC foes—among its many victories both years.

In each season, Texas was pitted against a storied Big Ten program in a bowl its opponent was highly familiar with (Michigan the Rose and Ohio State the Fiesta).

Each of those Big Ten teams had lost to prestigious non-conference foes on the road (Michigan at Notre Dame; Ohio State at USC) early in the season while dropping one Big Ten game to a standout opponent (Michigan to Ohio State; Ohio State to Penn State).

Both Michigan and Ohio State had reached BCS-bowl territory through the leadership of highly touted freshmen starting quarterbacks (Chad Henne and Terrelle Pryor).

Both Michigan and Ohio State, entering their battles with Texas at #13 and #10 nationally, were seven spots behind the #6 and #3 Longhorns.

Michigan was seven years removed from its last national championship; Ohio State six years removed.

During the respective BCS tilts, Michigan and Texas were tied at halftime, while Ohio State and Texas very nearly were, if not for an uncharacteristic Colt McCoy interception right before the break.

As those second halves played out, Michigan moved ahead with just over three minutes to play; Ohio State with just over two. In both cases, of course, the biggest mistake made was leaving too much time on the scoreboard for two quarterbacks in burnt orange deserving of Heisman trophies.

The exploits of both Vince Young—372 total yards and five scores and Colt McCoy—399 total yards and three scores—were the crux of Texas' success against one of the Big Ten's best.

Each season featured a cherry on top in the form of an Oklahoma defeat in the national title game.

Despite narrow misses for even bigger awards, both of these Mack Brown-led squads could boast top five finishes in the AP and Coaches polls. The departing seniors from 2004 could reflect on a record of 43-8; the 2008 seniors one of 45-7.

Those looking forward to the following season were/are able to brag on some sterling accomplishments, with the 2005 seniors-to-be having gone 32-6 and the 2009 seniors-in-waiting 32-7.

As a whole, the 2005 squad returned 16 starters that, of course, including a Heisman hopeful at quarterback. If you count the periodically starting Jared Norton, the 2009 squad returns the same numbers, highlighted by a superstar quarterback. Both were/are buoyed by the momentum of their first taste of BCS bowl success.

Both squads also harness the hopes of defensive leadership from former Auburn coordinators (Gene Chizik and Will Muschamp) that were/are awaiting head coach designations. And, of course, the offensive side of the ball was and is led by longtime offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

With the expected drop-off of top rival Oklahoma the following season (both for 2005 and 2009), it further opens the door for Texas' success on another level.

After the heart-stopping comeback over Michigan, UT's longtime sports information director Bill Little wrote, The step Texas took in winning the Rose Bowl wasn't just about the team of 2004. As the victory made a statement of where the program is, it also left a calling card about a belief for the future…in a celebration of what has been, it was a bright promise of what yet can be."

Vince Young's promise of returning to the Rose Bowl made Bill Little's message seem prophetic for 2005. Just maybe, Colt McCoy's leading in the last-moment Fiesta Bowl triumph and near-perfect regular season of 2008 gives equal promise to what can be for '09.

Perhaps it's no coincidence the venue for 2009's national title will be the same spot as 2005's—the Rose Bowl.

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