Texas aims to prove it belongs

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas players and fans are crashing the
Rose Bowl party, and they know it.

Some Longhorns players even welcome the criticism that has come
with Texas getting to the Rose Bowl instead of California, a move
that smashed the game's tradition of pitting a Pac-10 team against
a Big Ten team.

Now the sixth-ranked Longhorns (10-1) say they must beat 9-2
Michigan (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) or face a long offseason of taunts from critics who say they don't belong there. After breaking for Christmas, the
Longhorns are scheduled to meet the Wolverines in Pasadena, Calif.,
on Saturday night.

"There was a lot of debate whether we deserved to be in there
or not," said senior All-American linebacker Derrick Johnson. "We
have a little bit to prove. With all the hype around the game and
us barely getting in, we need to win this game."

"We welcome the naysayers, like we have all year," said
offensive guard Justin Blalock. "It's kind of fun to put it back
in their face."

Texas' Rose Bowl berth was one of the two flashpoints of
controversy in the Bowl Championship Series.

Undefeated Auburn getting snubbed from the BCS title game and
Texas' leap over Cal on the final weekend of the season -- even
though the No. 4 Golden Bears are ranked ahead of Texas in the
polls -- sparked a flurry of criticism.

But, after a third straight 10-win season, Texas players say
they deserved their first Rose Bowl berth.

They point to a tough schedule that saw them finish second in
the rugged Big 12 South behind No. 2 Oklahoma. Their only loss was
a 12-0 setback to the Sooners on Oct. 9.

After stumbling in some of their biggest games the last three
seasons, beating a program of Michigan's stature would help the
Longhorns gain credibility nationally.

"It's bigger than OU," said defensive tackle Rod Wright.

Several players said they want to win for coach Mack Brown, who
has been mocked in the media as a whiner for his late-season pleas
to poll voters to boost his team. Brown says he was merely backing
up a promise to his players that he would state their case for the

The Longhorns had come agonizingly close to the BCS in previous
years, only to get shut out at the end.

"Coach Brown stuck his neck out for us this year. Now I'm going
to put my neck out for him," said senior tailback Cedric Benson.
"This would be a big win for the program nationwide."

Brown said he appreciates the comments, but wants the Longhorns
to win the game for themselves.

"They got in because they deserved it," Brown said. "All I
did was ask people to look. Really and truly I feel like we should
have been in probably three of the last four years. I wish I had
made people more aware then, too."