Mack Brown looking for first conference title

Texas coach Mack Brown was concerned his team was starting to believe press clippings about how great they were supposed to be.

Brown even wore a mousetrap around his neck last week to warn them of approaching danger at Texas A&M. His message was clear: Don't get caught up in the hype that went with closing in on the school's first perfect regular season since 1983.

The tight game that materialized with the Aggies lived up to some of Brown's worst fears. But unlike some of his previous Texas teams that were long on talent but lacking in heart, this Longhorn team responded with one of its strongest finishes of the season to keep its Rose Bowl hopes alive.

Brown thinks the closer-than-expected 40-29 victory over the Aggies might have been the best thing that could have happened to his team heading into Saturday's Big 12 championship game against Colorado.

"Some teams would have caved in and some of ours probably would have in the past," Brown said. "But this team has been a resilient and confident team. This is what the doctor ordered and was a great test for us."

The Longhorns overcame a struggling defensive performance as the Aggies gashed them for a season-worst 277 rushing yards. Texas A&M was ahead early in the second half -- only the third team to accomplish that feat against Texas this season -- before the Longhorns shut out A&M on its final four possessions.

"This was an eye-opening experience," UT defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said. "The disappointing thing to me was it was just tackling and containments. It wasn't anything special, just basic day-one football. I don't know if we were tired or what, but we just weren't very good."

Those struggles made senior safety Michael Griffin anxious for his chance for redemption Saturday against the Buffaloes.

"We know it wasn't us," said Griffin, who produced 21 tackles and blocked a kick in the win. "It was a win, but after the game, the defense was just moping around with our heads down. We have to go out there this week, prepare for Colorado and put that game behind us."

Style points probably won't be necessary this week. A Texas win should push them into the Rose Bowl for a chance at their first undisputed national championship since 1969.
It also represents a homecoming for quarterback Vince Young, who played at Madison High School in Houston. Saturday's game will be his final chance to perform for Heisman voters in his bid to become the first quarterback in school history to earn college football's top individual award.

"This game means so much to me, to this team, to this program," Young told The Dallas Morning News earlier this week. "We're so close to our goals, you can smell the

But the Longhorns still have something to prove to those who might doubt them after the struggles against the Aggies.

"We want to go out and show everybody that last week's performance is not what we are," defensive end Brian Robison said. "We want to go out Saturday and show the nation we are the best, if not one of the best teams along with USC."

Saturday's game will be particularly important to Brown, a 22-year head coaching veteran who has more wins than any other active coach without a conference championship. Critics have dismissed Brown as "Mr. February" because his recruiting wizardry never quite translated into the kind of on-the-field success expected with the largess of riches that goes with coaching at Texas.

But if Brown wins Saturday -- as being a 27-point favorite over the 7-4 Buffaloes would suggest -- it would finally allow him to shed the label of being college football's version of soap opera diva Susan Lucci.

"That's something that everybody on this team would love to do," Texas tight end David Thomas said. "That would take a big monkey off his back. I think this is an opportunity to quiet all of the people who have criticized him in the past. Winning a conference championship is a goal we set a long time ago and it would be really special to do that for him."

The Longhorns will be gunning for their first Big 12 conference championship since 1996. Texas was denied under Brown in 1999 and 2001, losing to Nebraska and Colorado, respectively, after beating both teams in the regular season.

Brown remembers those losses, but also is excited about the opportunity this team has provided him.

"When I'm old and looking back and gumming my food, it will be something that I will be really proud of," Brown said.

In 2001, a Colorado team that was peaking surprised the Longhorns. Texas backed into the championship game only after Oklahoma was upset by Oklahoma State on the final day of the regular season.

"We had to rush to get our team back together and get a plan together," Brown said. "Colorado was the No. 9 team in the country and had just totally dominated Nebraska. This is a different time in our program than then and we'll be much better prepared this Saturday."

That Texas team had blown out Colorado earlier in the season. But the Buffaloes surprised Texas in the rematch. Chris Brown ripped through the Longhorns' defense for 182 yards, and Colorado forced four first-half turnovers from Chris Simms.

Another rematch situation will materialize Saturday at Reliant Stadium after Texas' 42-17 victory over Colorado Oct. 15 in Austin.

Brown said the Buffaloes were sapped in that game because of the heat in Austin. The Longhorns marched on a 16-play, 90-yard drive to start that game that ate up nearly eight minutes. They followed that drive with four straight drives that accounted for touchdowns on their way to a 35-3 lead late in the first half.

Colorado will represent the final hurdle for the Longhorns en route to the Rose Bowl. It would be Texas' first shot at the Bowl Championship Series championship game and the first time they would play in a bowl game with legitimate national-title implications since losing to Georgia in the 1984 Cotton Bowl.

"Texas definitely has more pressure in this game," Texas freshman wide receiver Quan Cosby said. "We have a lot more at stake.
A Big 12 championship and a bowl game would be huge for Colorado, but the fact that we're undefeated and have higher goals puts a lot more pressure on our team. But it's been that way all year so hopefully it won't change anything. We couldn't ask to be in a better situation right now."

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.