Longhorns have no sympathy for Frogs
AUSTIN, Texas -- If indeed the Texas Longhorns staggered through some kind of inexplicable purple haze during their near-implosion at Cowboys Stadium in the Big 12 title game, they adamantly deny it had anything to do with the specter of a riled TCU Horned Frog spewing a venomous hex 15 miles down the road in Fort Worth.
The second-ranked Longhorns escaped Nebraska and instant ignominy in that final, excruciating second. The victory denied undefeated Mountain West champion TCU a possible unprecedented shot at the national title and bestowed pedigreed Texas of the Big 12 its rightful place in the BCS national title game opposite No. 1 Alabama.
Ever since capturing that breathless Big 12 championship, however, the Longhorns, winners of 16 in a row dating back to last season's devastating loss at Texas Tech, haven't been able to escape mounting scrutiny.
In a strange about-face from a year ago, when the nation painted locked-out Texas as a sympathetic victim of cold-hearted BCS computations, these Longhorns are getting little respect for running the table, style points be damned, right into the game they thought they should have played in last season.
My goodness, there's even national dialogue wondering if Mack Brown's bunch is the best undefeated team in their own state.
"Well, we're going to the national championship, nothing else really matters," Texas senior defensive tackle Lamarr Houston said. "People can say what they want, but who's going to the game? There's no point in even talking about it. We don't even play them so it's not even a discussion. The last time we did play them, I think it was pretty well handed to them."
Texas beat TCU, 34-13, in Austin in 2007, but the Frogs led 10-0 at halftime and critics will point out that you can't compare two teams from two years ago. After all, if the boys at ESPN's Pardon the Interruption deemed Texas vs. TCU a debate worthy of national discussion, it must be serious.
"I don't pay much attention to that. Like I said, I watch cartoons most of the time," senior linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy said, maybe just a little bit tongue-in-cheek. "Cartoon Network doesn't even tell you nothing about sports. I ain't seen nothing of that ESPN reel on Cartoon Network."
Others on the Texas team surely must wonder why pundits are nitpicking their perfect season to death.
"I don't watch too much ESPN, I'm more of a Discovery Channel man," Texas tailback Tre' Newton said. "I've heard that, but it doesn't really affect us at all. We're just trying to focus on us and do the things we need to do to improve."
In reality, the wet blanket being thrown on Texas' 12-0 season, and the groundswell of support for Gary Patterson's impressive Horned Frogs, are more a function of a postseason system that elicits anger and frustration more than anything UT did or didn't accomplish on its way to the Jan. 7 title game.
Tulane, Hawaii, Boise State and Utah all have banged on the BCS door with unblemished records before without being granted a shot at the national championship. And, quite frankly, the undefeated 2004 Auburn Tigers of the mighty SEC don't want to hear any complaining.
So, in Pasadena, Calif., it will be the Crimson Tide and Longhorns, two legendary programs which enter the title tilt boasting the nation's second- and third-ranked defenses, respectively (behind, yep, TCU).
By virtue of their uninspired victory against Nebraska, and even their nerve-racking Thanksgiving victory at Texas A&M, the Longhorns will enter the Rose Bowl, just as they did in 2005 against a USC juggernaut, as decided underdogs.
"I was looking at some stats and [Alabama's] defensive stats, they're first or second in almost every category, so that's some serious stuff," Texas senior offensive guard Charlie Tanner said. "They play in the SEC, and that's just an awesome conference all the way around. If people don't give us much hope -- I mean, obviously we didn't play well the last game -- they really shouldn't."
Texas' defense gave up more than 500 yards to the Aggies, and senior quarterback Colt McCoy and the offense managed just 202 yards against Nebraska while turning Cornhuskers defensive end Ndamukong Suh into a household name.
Those performances have led Brown to take his team back to spring training-like practices over the last eight days with 5:15 a.m. wake-ups, 6 a.m. breakfasts followed by meetings and then two-hour, full-pad, full-contact practices in preparation of the Tide's dominant defensive front and Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Mark Ingram.
With a nation that fell in love with TCU's bravado and quickly jumped on Texas' tailspin, albeit in victory, the Longhorns know they'll be told they don't stand a chance against Alabama when they arrive in California on New Year's Day.
"All they heard is that it's going to be that way [against USC], and kids don't like to be told they can't do something. It'll be similar this year, and it's OK," Brown said. "I thought if you looked at SC and looked at us in '05, I understood. Those guys had won  straight and that's what I kept telling our team: 'This team is unbelievable.' ...
"So what everybody's saying is factual. They're not giving us credit, but that team is really good. It's really fair. And if you don't like it, then you got to play better than they do."
Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.