Texas’ championship hopes vanished after loss to Colorado

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Texas linebacker Marcus Wilkins (56) consoles free safety Ahmad Brooks as the two leave Texas Stadium following the Longhorns’ 39-37 defeat in the 2001 Big 12 Championship.

Photo Credit: Andrew Loehman | Daily Texan Staff

The last time Texas won a national championship, they beat Colorado by 67 along the way. But four years before that, it was the Buffaloes that came out on top and denied the Longhorns a chance at the title.

Despite a 14-3 loss to Oklahoma earlier that season, Texas found itself in an extremely advantageous position. All the Longhorns had to do to reach the national title game was beat No. 9 Colorado, a team they demolished, 41-7, just five weeks ago. But the Buffaloes stunned them, 39-37, to clinch a BCS berth of their own.

Quarterback Chris Simms tossed three touchdowns in the 34-point regular season win over Colorado, but threw three interceptions in the postseason rematch. Cedric Benson put Texas up 7-0 with a five-yard touchdown run, only to see Simms’ miscues erase his team’s momentum and lead. Colorado led 36-17 at one point, but senior signal-caller Major Applewhite, who replaced Simms in the second quarter, nearly brought Texas all the way back.

Rod Babers’ 54-yard interception return on a Colorado fake punt made the score 36-30, but Colorado capped off the ensuing 15-play, seven-minute drive with a crucial field goal to make it 39-30. Applewhite’s second touchdown, a one-yarder to B.J. Johnson, was followed by Colorado recovering an onside kick, shutting the door on Texas’ comeback and national title hopes.

“50 years from now, when I’m sitting around with my kids and grandkids watching this, this night will look every bit as good as it does right now,” said Colorado defensive lineman DeAndre Fluellen after the game. “It’s better than I ever could have imagined.”

It was incredible that Texas and Colorado even met in the conference championship game. For the Longhorns to get there, Oklahoma State had to upset Oklahoma, 16-13. For the Buffaloes to get there, they had to knock out No. 1 Nebraska, 62-36. And hours before the Big 12 Championship, No. 5 Tennessee beat No. 2 Florida, 34-32, to clear the way for Texas to take their place in the national title game.

But Texas never took that place. Whether or not Texas could have beaten Miami, who crushed Nebraska in the title game, 37-14, is anybody’s guess. The Hurricanes were stacked — they had six first-team All-Americans, 13 first-team All-ACC selections and six first-round picks in that year’s NFL Draft.

Simms was condemned by many Texas followers who used this game as the catalyst for what they considered an underachieving college career. Naturally, Applewhite apologists used it (and his subsequent 473-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Longhorns’ 47-43 Holiday Bowl victory over Washington) as the catalyst of what they considered to be Applewhite’s overachieving career.

The next month, a highly prized quarterback from Houston, Vince Young, committed to Texas. Young would eventually exorcise the demons from 2001, leading the Longhorns to 42-17 and 70-3 victories over Colorado during the 2005 championship campaign. Part of what made that title so special was that it had been 35 years since their last championship. It could have been only four years between championships had the 2001 Big 12 Championship played out differently.

Printed on 06/30/2011 as: Texas split championships with CU