December 7, 2008

The Fix: Going for AP's No. 1

Will Muschamp is probably somewhere looking at video of Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells.

And if Texas can go out to Glendale, Ariz., and take down Ohio State on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. on Fox, UT can keep introducing itself to the country as the Lunchpail Longhorns. This year's Texas team was every bit as nasty as OU. But it's the Sooners, who are being held up as college football's cage fighters for setting the speedometer on 60 the last five games, led by Stab-'Em-In-The-Heart Stoops.

You don't think Mack Brown could have put 50 or 60 on Kansas and Texas A&M?

THIS TEAM IS HARD

But the country is still getting used to looking at Brown and his Longhorns and seeing a team no longer pampering its five-star talent. The country still sees Brown as Stoops' Boy. The Mack who was ambushed 63-14 and 65-13 in 2000 and 2003 at the Cotton Bowl in October. They still see Brown and the Longhorns as the group that wouldn't know what the Big 12 crystal trophy looked like unless Vince Young was holding it.

So these Longhorns have to continue to shatter a reputation last burned into their hide after being embarrassed at College Station last season. Since then, it's been hard hats, not cuddle cakes.

But the rest of the country can't see it. Not yet. They might after Jan. 5. Mack will seemingly never leave his starters in the fourth quarter if he's up three touchdowns. But the rest of the country will see how physical these Longhorns are under Muschamp. How much will and determination Colt McCoy has. How smart and consistent Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley are. How relentless Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller, Sergio Kindle and Roddrick Muckelroy are.

PERSONALITY CHANGE


Sometimes it takes a year - or longer - for a reputation to change. Tom Osborne was once a guy who couldn't win the big one. So was Phillip Fulmer. So was Mack Brown, for that matter. Stoops has never had that problem. He won a national title his second year at OU, and now has his sixth Big 12 title in seven tries in 10 seasons in Norman.

It's called benefit of the doubt.

When coaches sit down to fill out their ballots, they reward the coach they'd most like to be. Most coaches are like boxers. They love knockouts and intimidation. That's not Mack Brown. That's Bob Stoops. If you like old school coaching - philosophical and fatherly - like Joe Paterno, then Mack Brown is your guy. But Joe Paterno has had four undefeated seasons that went uncrowned as national champions. So much for nice guys finishing first.

VOTERS WANT BLOOD

Voters like blood. It's football. They like helmets colliding, mouthpieces flying and fists pumping. If your goal is to be the nice guy, it won't sell. If you're a coach constantly spouting philosophy instead of spitting nails, voters' eyes glaze over. Mack's good kids who graduate stuff is great in parents' living rooms before February. It absolutely kills him with his coaching peers and voters in December. That's why Mack got a raw deal this season.

Too many voters confused the old Texas, the old Mack with the new Texas, the Lunchpail Longhorns infused with Muschamp's overachieving attitude.

I went on radio shows across the country this season and called Muschamp the Bill Belichick of college football from a defensive standpoint - able to take away an opponent's bread-and-butter and force it to beat you left-handed.

Some scoffed. So Texas has to keep showing people, keep winning over voters - one at a time. On Jan. 5 - Texas will have the whole football-watching nation to itself against Ohio State. Mack will be up against Jim Tressel, who won the national title in 2002 and played for it the last two years. Tressel is seen as an Xs and Os guru. Mack is seen as a great recruiter.

CONVINCE THE COUNTRY

Minds can be changed Jan. 5. If the Lunchpail Longhorns turn Ohio State inside out, more people will realize there is something different coming out of the locker room in Austin. It's a brand of football player every bit as physical and punishing as Stoops' Troops.

I even seem to recall that Mack's Lunchpail Longhorns took it to Stoops' Troops back in October. Mack can certainly afford to start letting some of the Mack we see on the sidelines - the guy yanking off headsets and yelling at officials - show through when the cameras are rolling and the microphones are in front of him. Otherwise he comes off too calculating. Football isn't calculating. It's emotional.

If Mack keeps saying all the right things, worried about who he might offend, he'll probably always leave a certain group of voters cold. In that case, his team will have to do all the talking for him - like the Lunchpail Longhorns did this season. Their performance may not have resonated the way it should when voters cast their ballots last week. But minds can be changed starting Jan. 5 for 2009 and beyond.


NEXT OPPONENT - OHIO STATE (10-2)
(Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 5, 7 p.m., Fox)

BEST WINS -
at Wisconsin (20-17), at Michigan State (45-7) and at Northwestern (45-10)

LOSSES - at USC (35-3), home against Penn State (13-6)

OFFENSE - Jim Tressel replaced senior quarterback Todd Boeckman with freshman Terrelle Pryor after a 35-3 loss at USC. Pryor led Ohio State to a 28-10 victory over Troy in his first start and hasn't looked back. He became the first freshman to start at QB for Ohio State since Art Schlichter in 1978, posted an 8-1 mark as the starter and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Running back Chris Wells opened the season as a Heisman Trophy frontrunner, but an ankle injury sidelined him for three games, including OSU's loss at USC. He finished the regular season with 1,091 yards rushing (5.7 ypc) and eight touchdowns. Pryor has some good receivers, led by Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie, but Ohio State has one of the nation's worst pass offenses (104th, 148.1 yards per game).

DEFENSE - Ohio State is led by its defense and awards candidate linebacker James Laurinaitis, whom Texas fans will remember from 2006. The Buckeyes are seventh nationally in scoring defense, giving up just 13.1 points per game. The Buckeyes are also excellent at forcing turnovers (+13), led by defensive backs Kurt Coleman (four interceptions) and Malcolm Jenkins (three interceptions). But after losing Vernon Gholston to the NFL last season, Ohio State has struggled to get a pass rush. Ohio State also gave up a full yard more per carry this season over last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Ohio State is solid punting the football (10th nationally in net punting) and has a threat on punt returns in junior receiver Ray Small, who averages 15.1 yards per return and returned one for a touchdown (against Ohio). The Buckeyes do a good job defending kick returns, giving up just 17.4 yards per return (No. 5 nationally). But Lamarr Thomas is nothing special on kickoff returns (22.1 ypr - OSU ranks 110th nationally in the category.)


CHIP'S FINAL HEISMAN TROPHY BALLOT
1. Colt McCoy -
Did more with less than Tebow or Bradford

2. Tim Tebow - Gutsy performance against Alabama showed how much he means to his team

3. Sam Bradford - Might have played himself into the NFL


CHIP'S BIG 12 BOWL PICKS

BCS National Title Game -
Oklahoma 38, Florida 34

Fiesta Bowl - Texas 31, Ohio State 10

Rose Bowl - USC 21, Penn State 17

Orange Bowl - Cincinnati 24, Virginia Tech 21

Sugar Bowl - Alabama 27, Utah 14

Cotton Bowl - Texas Tech 35, Ole Miss 33

Gator Bowl - Clemson 28, Nebraska 24

Holiday Bowl - Oklahoma State 44, Oregon 40

Alamo Bowl - Missouri 28, Northwestern 27

Insight Bowl - Kansas 35, Minnesota 24


ONE FINAL THOUGHT

In covering Texas since 1992, this has been one of the most enjoyable seasons I've ever experienced observing the Longhorns. This is a team every fan should be proud of. To think a secondary with two freshmen safeties, no big-name back and no first-round pick at receiver went 11-1 with a chance to win the AP national title - it's great stuff. Congratulations to Mack Brown and these Longhorns on a job well done and a much-deserved trip to the BCS.


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