Texas aims to prove it belongs

Updated: December 28, 2004, 1:14 PM ET
Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas players and fans are crashing the Rose Bowl party, and they know it.

Some Longhorns players even welcome the criticism that has come with Texas getting to the Rose Bowl instead of California, a move that smashed the game's tradition of pitting a Pac-10 team against a Big Ten team.

Now the sixth-ranked Longhorns (10-1) say they must beat 9-2 Michigan (No. 12 ESPN/USA Today, No. 13 AP) or face a long offseason of taunts from critics who say they don't belong there. After breaking for Christmas, the Longhorns are scheduled to meet the Wolverines in Pasadena, Calif., on Saturday night.

"There was a lot of debate whether we deserved to be in there or not," said senior All-American linebacker Derrick Johnson. "We have a little bit to prove. With all the hype around the game and us barely getting in, we need to win this game."

"We welcome the naysayers, like we have all year," said offensive guard Justin Blalock. "It's kind of fun to put it back in their face."

Texas' Rose Bowl berth was one of the two flashpoints of controversy in the Bowl Championship Series.

Undefeated Auburn getting snubbed from the BCS title game and Texas' leap over Cal on the final weekend of the season -- even though the No. 4 Golden Bears are ranked ahead of Texas in the polls -- sparked a flurry of criticism.

But, after a third straight 10-win season, Texas players say they deserved their first Rose Bowl berth.

They point to a tough schedule that saw them finish second in the rugged Big 12 South behind No. 2 Oklahoma. Their only loss was a 12-0 setback to the Sooners on Oct. 9.

After stumbling in some of their biggest games the last three seasons, beating a program of Michigan's stature would help the Longhorns gain credibility nationally.

"It's bigger than OU," said defensive tackle Rod Wright.

Several players said they want to win for coach Mack Brown, who has been mocked in the media as a whiner for his late-season pleas to poll voters to boost his team. Brown says he was merely backing up a promise to his players that he would state their case for the BCS.

The Longhorns had come agonizingly close to the BCS in previous years, only to get shut out at the end.

"Coach Brown stuck his neck out for us this year. Now I'm going to put my neck out for him," said senior tailback Cedric Benson. "This would be a big win for the program nationwide."

Brown said he appreciates the comments, but wants the Longhorns to win the game for themselves.

"They got in because they deserved it," Brown said. "All I did was ask people to look. Really and truly I feel like we should have been in probably three of the last four years. I wish I had made people more aware then, too."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press