Texas Longhorns (2000: 9-3)
The following team preview is provided by Blue Ribbon. For the nation's most comprehensive look at this and all Division I-A teams, be sure to order the 2001 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, on sale now at 1-800-775-2518.
Coach and programSince arriving in Austin from North Carolina before the 1998 season, Mack Brown has done a masterful job of restoring Texas' football pride. The program embodies class, from the secretaries to the weight room to the football offices to expanded Darrell K. Royal/Memorial Stadium. The Horns are no longer jokes.
The last time UT had this good a three-year run was 1981-83 under Fred Akers (30 victories). Add that winning to stellar recruiting classes. and it's no surprise that Texas is tabbed as one of several teams with a legitimate shot at winning the national championship. And the pressure is on Brown to make sure that the Horns don't stumble out of that race early, as they have in the last two seasons.
In some media outposts, before last season Texas was selected as a long shot national championship contender. But in the second game of the season, the Horns lost a shocker at Stanford, 27-24. The national title hopes and dreams were officially squashed three weeks later when Oklahoma made its national championship with an eye-opening 63-14 whacking of the Horns in the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 7.
In his first year, Brown was masterful in handling Ricky Williams' Heisman Trophy season. Last season, however, a quarterback controversy blew up in Brown's face. Major Applewhite and Chris Simms spent most of the year battling for the starting job. No matter what Brown said or did, the Applewhite/Simms, Simms/Applewhite competition appeared to be a season-long distraction.
"We want to win our conference championship and hope that puts us in a position to win the national championship," he said. "That's going to be our goal every year. We put pressure on ourselves to win every game, every year, and we will continue to strive for that.''
The schedule is certainly conducive to a national championship run. The non-conference foes -- New Mexico State and North Carolina at home, Houston on the road -- pose no great threats. Texas opens conference play with a home game against Texas Tech on Sept. 29. All eyes will be on Dallas on Oct. 6 when the Horns face the defending national champions. That game could match a pair of top five teams. The loser goes to the back of the contenders' line.
OffenseThis is now Simms' team. The 6-5, 222-pound junior won the starting job during spring practice. That means that Applewhite, a 6-1, 207-pound senior, will play only in blowouts or if Simms is injured. Considering that Applewhite is the school's leader in career passing yards and touchdown passes, the two quarterbacks provide Texas with uncommon depth at the position.
Last season, Simms played in 10 games. He completed 67-of-117 passes for 1,064 yards and eight touchdowns. But he also had seven interceptions, and in his career has thrown one interception for every 15 attempts.
UT fans no doubt will be clamoring for Cedric Benson (6-foot, 200) to be chosen the team's starting tailback. Benson, from Midland Lee High School, is the school's most ballyhooed running back recruit since Earl Campbell. In high school, Benson gained 8,423 yards -- the fourth most in state history.
Last season, sophomore receivers Roy Williams (6-5, 210) and B.J. Johnson (6-1, 190) had impressive rookie seasons. Johnson set a school freshman record with his team-high 41 receptions. Those catches produced 698 yards and three touchdowns. Williams had 40 receptions and his 809 yards was a freshman record. He also had eight touchdown receptions.
Four of five starters return up front, but there's a hole to plug. A BIG hole. The missing starter from last year's unit is left tackle Leonard Davis. The consensus first-team All-American and Outland Trophy finalist was blot-out-the-sun big -- 6-6 and 365 pounds.
Three seniors with playing experience should anchor the line. Matt Anderson (6-4, 300) is a two-year starter at center. Mike Williams (6-6, 339) and Antwan Kirk-Hughes (6-3, 310) were both honorable mention Big 12 performers last season.
Defense and special teamsFor the last two years, Texas' defense against the run has been excellent. Last year, the Horns were 12th nationally in stuffing opposing ball carriers. The two biggest reasons for that success were defensive tackles Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers.
Sophomore Marcus Tubbs (6-4, 280) is expected to fill one of the tackle spots. Last season as a redshirt freshman, he had 5.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 37 tackles and seven quarterback pressures.
All three starters at linebacker return for their senior seasons. D.D. Lewis (6-1, 245) is a three-year starter. He tied for the team lead in tackles last season (78), had 4.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 12 quarterback pressures.
Texas' defense got a boost when Quentin Jammer (6-1, 198) decided to return for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft. Jammer was listed as the nation's top junior cornerback by draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr.
Overall, the Longhorns' special teams have benefited from the increased talent brought by recent recruiting successes. The improved depth and ability at all positions has helped Texas' special teams improve.
"We have put a tremendous amount of preparation time into developing our kick coverage units,'' Brown said.
Bottom lineThe word "patience'' isn't in the vocabulary of most Texas fans. While Brown has returned pride to the program, the memories of the school's last national championship (1970) continue to fade. And, dad gum it, if those @#$&^!!? Sooners can win a national championship, why can't the Longhorns?
This is the season when Brown needs to deliver a team that won't trip over its own shoelaces, a team that will enter November undefeated and on the trail of a national title.
Texas, which for years seemed to be scraping by in the talent department, has enough All-America and all-conference types to compete with the nation's best. If the defense continues to get better and faster, it should be able to match an offense which could be potent if a productive tailback is discovered.