Goal down, dream to go for Longhorns

HOUSTON -- From a competitive standpoint, the fans in burnt orange could have vacated Reliant Stadium after the first quarter. It was all carnage after that, the worst train wreck in the dubious history of conference championship games.

But the fans did not come for a competition. They came for a coronation. They came to see the Texas Longhorns get back in the business of winning championships (today the Big 12 ... next month all of America?). They came and they stayed, until well after the final gun on a 70-3 obliteration of collapsing Colorado, to savor this.

They reveled in a feeling that had become surprisingly rare for one of the flagship programs in college football -- the feeling of going undefeated and playing for all the marbles.

"We goin' to the 'ship!" hollered the Horns as they hopped in unison on the field. "We goin' to the 'ship!"

The 'ship will not sail without Texas this year. Not after this tour de force. Bevo's going back to Beverly Hills, to the Rose Bowl, to the matchup everyone has been waiting for all year, against USC.

For the first time in 21 years, Texas will play a game that could win it the national title.

That's why the celebration was so prolonged and so meaningful. When you expect to win national championships every year but haven't done it since 1970, finally getting to the brink feels awfully good.

That's why the fans stayed in their seats and roared as their pied piper, the brilliant Vince Young, skipped around the stadium floor. He held a rose in his left hand and pointed at the stands with his right, the King of H-Town being saluted by the fans in his native city.

"I've seen him morph into the best player in the country," tight end David Thomas said of Young. "He just means a lot to all of us."

And this moment meant a lot to Young. After spending all week scrambling to get tickets for friends and family, he spent Saturday scrambling the Colorado defense.

"He just takes over a game," Buffaloes coach Gary Barnett said. "Just like he did in the Rose Bowl [last year]. Seeing him take over a game like he did against Michigan, you saw the coming of a great player. He hasn't slowed down since then."

Had Reggie Bush not gone superhuman the past two games, Young would be the solid favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Now it looks like he'll have to settle for trying to outplay Bush helmet-to-helmet in Pasadena.

"I don't really care about the Heisman right now," Young said after throwing for 193 yards and three touchdowns and running for 57 and another TD. "I only care about winning the Big 12."

The Horns did that with ridiculous ease. No Big 12 opponent came within single digits of them during the regular season, and Colorado sure wasn't going to change that Saturday.

If this mismatch proved anything beyond the dominance of Texas, it's this: The Big 12 North Division has a serious credibility issue. With Nebraska having slipped, nobody else has stepped up to fill that void.

Consider: Over the past two years, the Buffaloes are the only team from the North with a winning league record (9-7) -- and they've now lost the last two Big 12 title games by a combined score of 112-6.

Barnett said during the week that he hoped his team "puts on a little better show" this year than their 42-3 throttling from Oklahoma in 2004. This one was worse. Much worse.

Texas hung 70 on the board in 2½ quarters, which is scarcely believable. Even though the Horns didn't score again, coach Mack Brown was notably slow taking his foot off the accelerator.

Several defensive starters were still in the game at 70-3, and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik was still calling blitzes. One of them, by linebacker Drew Kelson, resulted in a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit on Colorado quarterback Joel Klatt, literally knocking him senseless.

Kelson was flagged, and Klatt was concussed. He left Reliant Stadium on a stretcher, bound for a local hospital for overnight observation.

Asked about the blitz call that took out Klatt, Barnett said, "You know, that's a hard question for me right now. If you don't mind, I would just as soon go to another one."

Maybe Brown was sending a muscle-flexing message to Los Angeles -- a message the Trojans returned in kind against UCLA. But he admitted, for some reason, to having some concerns heading into this one.

Part of that concern was Texas' tight performance against Texas A&M last week. Part of it was concern about Young being too hyped to play in his hometown.

With that in mind, Brown said he and offensive coordinator Greg Davis decided to go no-huddle to "stir him up and get him where he doesn't have time to think." It worked, as Young performed almost perfectly.

Texas' defense and special teams took care of the rest. The Horns forced four turnovers and blocked two kicks, quickly reducing the drama to one unanswered question: When would the players give Brown the Gatorade shower?

The second quarter would have been appropriate, but they waited until the final minutes. Then they gave Brown a double-barreled dousing. The coach everyone used to say was too uptight to win the big one wore a big grin to go with his soaked shirt.

His Horns have been playing with Texas-sized expectations on their shoulders all season. They got bigger after blowing out Oklahoma and grew again after blowing out Texas Tech. That cleared the path to get to this point, and this game.

On Thursday, actor and Texas fan Matthew McConaughey gave the Horns their final marching orders.

"Win this one Saturday," McConaughey said. "That's your goal. Then go win your dream."

Goal down. Dream to go.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.