Texas takes a back seat
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
January 3, 2006
But the Texas Longhorns are not getting much respect in the run up to Wednesday's national championship game compared to the USC Trojans, who are swimming in it.
The buzz is about the Trojans. The media hype is about the Trojans. The celebrities are gushing about the Trojans.
ESPN just completed a seemingly endless SportsCenter discussion about whether USC is the greatest college football team of all time.
"They're the greatest team of all time," smiled Texas linebacker Aaron Harris. "That's what they say."
"[Our players] have been very respectful of SC, and SC deserves that," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "But that's a difficult thing when you want to win badly and people are saying you don't have a very good chance."
Texas is going to have to pitch a perfect game to knock off the Trojans, and thus far they are on pace. In the pregame hype, the Longhorns have played their role here as the visiting team, as the other team, as the foil in the leading man's script.
They've understood that to the victors – and in USC we are talking 34 consecutive wins, two consecutive Heisman Trophies and one BCS national title here – go the spoils.
For Texas to whine too much would be silly. USC isn't just any old team. Even some Trojans think they are getting too much hype.
"We are on TV so much it is ridiculous," Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush said. "I'm sick of seeing us."
The Longhorns have gotten plenty of respect themselves. They are ranked No. 2 in the country. Vince Young won all the national quarterback awards over Matt Leinart. While the majority of people are picking USC, the Longhorns have their backers.
The idea that Texas is some Cinderella is simply absurd. Yes, USC is favored by a touchdown. But the 'Horns have the full allotment of scholarships and actually can afford blocking dummies too, in case you weren't sure.
But here is the thing: If the Longhorns are going to win the national championship Wednesday, a major factor will be the contrast in how these two teams were treated before the game, which naturally influenced the way they approached the matchup.
"As long as we play the way we know how, there is no possible way [we lose]," Bush said. "They probably feel the same way, but from our standpoint, it's about us, it's not about Texas."
That is about as bold as the smack talk got this week. Pretty tame, but it portends an attitude – it's not about Texas. Out of every five questions posed to a Trojan, four were about how great they were. The other concerned stopping Young or dealing with the fast, physical Longhorn defense.
Texas may have won 19 consecutive games and blown out half the football factories on the Great Plains, but this game is USC's to win or USC's to lose.
Maybe it is that an undefeated Big 12 team showed up in the title game last year and got steamrolled. Maybe it is that the game is being played in Southern California. Maybe it is Texas' history of blowing it in big games.
"We're always underdogs," Young said. "It's something we don't care about."
That's a lie, of course. No team ever declines to use the powerful us-against-the-world card that comes with being the underdog. And while Texas is hardly always the underdog, Mack Brown has been ripped so often that he made a promise to himself last season, when the fans were howling loudly after another humiliating defeat to Oklahoma, to stop listening.
"I quit worrying about the critics," Brown said. "As long as I believe in what I am doing [I'm fine]. I don't worry about what people are saying about me."
This is good because almost no one thinks Brown is a better coach than USC's Pete Carroll. And since the majority of people think USC is a better team than Texas, Brown's what-me-worry attitude is perfect.
Maybe Texas is just following the lead of its coach.
"I'm proud of the class [we've] shown throughout the week," Brown said.
He should be. And USC should take notice. Texas may not win Wednesday, but it won't be because the Longhorns are nervous. It won't be because they lack confidence. They've seemed to look on with bemusement at all the attention USC is garnering, and they quietly have promised that everything is subject to change.
"It's about the best team on game day," Young said.
The Longhorns absolutely are convinced they will be that best team. USC may want to remember that.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Tuesday, Jan 3, 2006 11:35 pm, EST