Texas is looking to prove it belongs

Published: Saturday, January 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 31, 2004 at 11:40 p.m.
PASADENA, Calif. - First came Texas. Then a week of rain.
It's almost as if the Longhorns' first trip to the Rose Bowl upset the balance of New Year's Day college football in sunny Southern California.
But after a week of answering questions about why his No. 6 Longhorns (10-1) deserved to be playing Big Ten co-champion No. 13 Michigan (9-2) in Pasadena, Texas coach Mack Brown says it's time to put that to rest.
"The system put us here and we're a really good football team," Brown said Friday. "Now, let's play."
The Longhorns earned their trip West when they leapfrogged fourth-ranked California in the final Bowl Championship Series standings.
Brown and the Longhorns traveled to Pasadena under a barrage of criticism after the coach's public pleas to get his team into the BCS helped Texas get in over a higher-ranked team.
By bumping Cal, Texas also crashed the Rose Bowl's long-standing tradition that the "Granddaddy" of bowl games pits a Pac-10 team against the Big Ten champ.
Then, just to prove something was amiss, the Los Angeles area was smacked with cold temperatures and a week of intense rain, although the clouds are expected to clear for the annual Rose Parade and the game. It hasn't rained on the Rose Parade since 1955.
"We appreciate the Tournament of Roses making the weather more like home," said Michigan offensive coordinator Terry Malone.
While Cal's claim to the Rose Bowl took a huge hit with a 45-31 Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech - a team Texas dominated 51-21 this season - Longhorns players say only a win today will silence their critics.
"We've got to prove we deserve to be here," strong safety Phillip Geiggar said. "If we don't win, people will say it should have been somebody else."
The pressure is also on Brown, who this week agreed to a new 10-year, $25 million contract before his team played in the biggest bowl game of his career. Brown is 3-3 in bowls at Texas.
The 91st Rose Bowl pits two programs with proud football legacies against each other for the first time.
Michigan is the winningest team in college football history with 842 victories, and Texas ranks third with 786.
"Across the country, the fans, the people who love college football, they love this game," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "The first opportunity to play Texas, and to do it in this setting, is special. Both teams recognize the opportunity that's out there."
The game shapes up as a good one, featuring Michigan's two outstanding freshmen - quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Mike Hart - and wide receiver Braylon Edwards against a Texas offense led by tailback Cedric Benson and quarterback Vince Young.
Henne, the first freshman to open a season at quarterback for Michigan since 1975, passed for 2,516 yards and 21 touchdowns. His main target is Edwards, an All-American who caught 87 passes for 1,221 yards.
Hart rushed for 1,372 yards to become the first Michigan freshman to top 1,000 yards.
"It's amazing what they've been able to do with a freshman quarterback," Brown said. "Both of those guys are going to be stars for a long time."
Benson ran for 1,764 yards and 19 touchdowns for Texas. With 5,470 career yards, the Doak Walker Award winner needs 129 today to rank fourth in Division I history.
Young threw for 1,669 yards and 11 touchdowns, but his running ability is a bigger concern for Michigan.
The Wolverines have two All-Americans on defense, defensive backs Marlin Jackson and Ernest Shazor, but have been vulnerable against mobile quarterbacks, most notably in a 37-21 loss to Ohio State in the final regular-season game.
"I call it the 'Texas Two-Step,"' said Young, who has rushed for 887 yards and 10 TDs. "I love getting a guy 1-on-1 and making them miss."
While Texas wants to prove it belongs in the BCS, Michigan wants to erase the memory of last year's 28-14 Rose Bowl loss to Southern California.
"It's a completely different team this year," All-American center David Baas said. "We're not looking back on it but we definitely remember it."
Next season, the Rose Bowl will be the site of the BCS title game. Brown said he'd like it if his first Rose Bowl isn't his last.
"Lloyd and I said we'd like to be invited back next year," Brown said. "If that's OK."
  • WHO: No. 5 Texas (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) vs. No. 12 Michigan (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten).
  • WHERE: Pasadena, Calif.
  • WHEN: 4:30 p.m.
  • SURFACE: Grass.
  • PAYOUT PER TEAM: $14-17 million.
  • BOWL RECORDS: Michigan 18-17, Texas 20-21-2.
  • SERIES: First meeting.
  • POINTS: Texas coach Mack Brown wasn't shy about sharing his belief that his team deserved to be in a major bowl. It is now up to the Longhorns to prove him right. It doesn't hurt that he has RB Cedric Benson on his side to challenge the Michigan defense that couldn't stop Ohio State in its last outing. Longhorns' QB Vince Young is also a dangerous running threat and must be monitored by Michigan S Ernest Shazor. But if the Wolverines' secondary sells out too much to keep the 'Horns grounded, Young's passing has improved enough to spring WR Tony Jeffery and TE Bo Scaife. The Michigan offense has enough talent to keep pace. The freshman tandem of QB Chad Henne and RB Mike Hart won't be intimidated by the big stage, but getting past Texas LB Derrick Johnson won't be as easy. Wolverines' WR Braylon Edwards will draw added attention from Longhorns' SS Mike Huff, which could create opportunities for fellow WRs Jason Avant and Steve Breaston.
  • EXTRA POINT: The Longhorns have only faced current Big Ten members in bowls on three previous occasions, most recently in a 38-15 loss to Penn State in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl.
    - USA Today
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