November 30, 2008

Will Voters Use Common Sense Today?

Today will go down as one of the key dates in Texas football history.

It could be the starting point for a debate that will have 2008 going down like 2001, 1983, 1977, 1964 and 1961 - all the Texas teams that were in a position to play for or win a national title and didn't. Or it will be the day the 2008 team earned its right to control its own destiny in a bid for the school's fifth national title.

That's how much control the voters have. We know the computers are most likely going to reward Oklahoma for beating the 12th-ranked team on the road last night. The computers will also likely punish Texas because Missouri took on an unexpected loss.

ELECTION DAY

So now it's up to the human voters - 61 coaches and an eclectic mix of 114 Harris Poll voters.

The talking heads helped make Texas' case - Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Mark May. Mack Brown said all the right things during the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State broadcast, reminding everyone Texas had beaten OU, Oklahoma State and Missouri this season.

Throw in Texas Tech nearly losing at home to Baylor - and it should all be as simple as 45-35.

If it isn't, then previous perception or personal bias is probably at work.

The coaches don't have to make this vote public, but will have to make their final vote public. Same for the Harris Poll voters.

So if someone wants to carry out a grudge and put Texas No. 25 and Oklahoma No. 1. They can. Our current system doesn't appear to have safeguards to prevent such a thing.

FIGHTING PAST PERCEPTIONS

But here's the irony. For the early part of this decade under Mack Brown, Texas was perceived as a bunch of mega-talented, underachievers. The school that had Chris Simms, Roy Williams, Cedric Benson, Leonard Davis, Mike Williams, Casey Hampton, Shaun Rogers, Quentin Jammer and Nathan Vasher and could never win a conference title, let alone a national title.

This year is totally different. Thanks to the in-your-face attitude Mack Brown took at last year's Holiday Bowl and in hiring Will Muschamp and Major Applewhite, these are the Lunchpail Longhorns. They are the true, blue-collar overachievers Muschamp promised before the season.

In outscoring Kansas and Texas A&M 84-16 in its last two games, Texas showed it may be playing its best defense of the season. In Colt McCoy, UT should have the Heisman Trophy winner - the ultimate grinder, who continues to overcome physical punishment to dish out his own.

This is one of those rare teams where its best players are its hardest workers. From the Tuesday night film studies at Moncrief Neuhaus to Brian Orakpo and McCoy leading the way in the weight room to Chris Ogbonnaya, a graduate student, filling in wherever necessary to help resuscitate a running game.

UT DOESN'T FIT INTO A BOX

I wrote earlier this season that these Texas Longhorns didn't play well to a national audience because they were hard to describe, hard to put in a box. They didn't have a big-play running back. They didn't have a receiver that jumped off the screen like Percy Harvin at Florida or Julio Jones at Alabama.

And they had a cast of virtual unknowns on defense. Let's face it, what had voters seen from Texas' key playmakers like Orakpo and Sergio Kindle last year? Not much. Kindle was on the bench behind Robert Killebrew, and Orakpo was playing hurt most of the year. And let's not forget this year's secondary - a group so young they still need a map to find their classes on campus.

THE NEW MACK BROWN

And, let's face it, Texas has a coach who many perceived in years' past to say all the right things off the field but failed to make enough calls on it unless he had a player named Vince Young.

The sad thing would be if voters confused that Texas for this Texas - the Lunchpail Longhorns. This truly is a team, much like those 2001 New England Patriots, who refused personal introductions before their Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams. Like those Patriots, these Longhorns are a collection of castoffs and misfits. Like 25-year-old Quan Cosby and two-time, season-ending knee injury survivor Jordan Shipley. Or Ogbonnaya, who moved from position to position to position before playing a key role this season at tailback.

STOOPS TRADING ON REPUTATION

The Lunchpail Longhorns are in a popularity contest with Oklahoma. An OU team that doesn't appear to have a championship defense, an OU team loaded with skill talent but overrated on the offensive line. An OU team that has lost its last four BCS games by an average margin of 16 points while giving up an average of 41.2 points per game.

But the Sooners have a steel-jawed coach, who talks tough and has won five Big 12 titles with five different quarterbacks. He has what voters would call "benefit of the doubt." Just like political campaigns love candidates with name recognition, Bob Stoops has that.

Mack Brown's reputation has been to consistently win 10 games and dominate in bowls like the Cotton, Holiday and Alamo. Perhaps the late-season fades of 2006 and 2007 are still to fresh in voters' minds.

THIS IS A NEW TEXAS

Can't the voters see this team is different? This Mack Brown is different?

In today's economy and political climate, these Longhorns are what we should all be - aggressive, hard-working, inseparable, resilient and fearless.

Brown has won 10 games in eight straight years, but even Brown admits some of those teams got by on talent and lacked intangibles. Brown admitted this week that last year's team "drove him crazy" because it didn't always play hard.

Of course, we know why that 10-win team didn't feel anything like this year's 11-win team. That team lacked chemistry. From Larry Mac Duff failing to connect with a star player like Kindle. To young players who ended up in jail thinking they could take advantage of the system.

But Brown fixed that. At Roy Miller's suggestion, Brown instituted a leadership council of eight players to have regular discussions with the coach. Brown hired Ken Rucker to help serve as a player liaison. And then he hired one of the best football coaches in the country in Will Muschamp and added more young fire with Major Applewhite.

THESE ARE THE LUNCHPAIL LONGHORNS

Now, this is a team that prides itself in finding a way. Just like it did when it was down 11 points twice to Oklahoma. Just like when it was down 19 points twice at Texas Tech. These Longhorns fight back, no matter the circumstances.

The question is if the voters have had a chance to digest just how different these Longhorns are from those even 12 months ago.

But it shouldn't come to that. Even with all the previous notions voters might have of Texas. And even with the Lunchpail Longhorns' lack of wow factor, you still have that game in October at the State Fair of Texas.

You still have a scoreboard that read 45-35.

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