Everything coming up Roses for Texas in California

Updated: December 29, 2005, 9:58 AM ET
Associated Press

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- The Texas Longhorns arrived in California last year feeling unwanted, dismissed by their West Coast hosts as the swaggering braggarts who bumped the Pac-10 out of the "Granddaddy" of bowl games.

Things certainly have changed with their return.

Texas is being welcomed with open arms, or least as warmly as could be expected in the hometown of The Rose Bowl (Presented by Citi) opponent Southern Cal, and the only thing everyone's talking about this year is the matchup unbeaten college football titans.

"It's the matchup everybody wanted since last year," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said before his team broke for Christmas break in Austin. "The two teams have the responsibility to make sure the game lives up to its billing."

The Longhorns finished practice on Dec. 22 with instructions for the team to meet at its hotel by Wednesday night. Practice resumes Thursday morning and the ceremonial pregame countdown begins with both teams being welcomed at Disneyland.

Tens of thousands of Texans will be pouring into the Los Angeles area over the next week to give Hollywood a distinctive burnt-orange hue.

Many of them came last year for the novelty of watching their team playing in the Rose Bowl. They hope this trip will end with Texas' first undisputed national championship in 36 years.

Last season, the Longhorns supplied much of the annual Bowl Championship Series controversy when Brown pleaded for his team to get in and the Longhorns leapfrogged ahead of California.

It upset the college football purists as it meant the Rose Bowl wouldn't get its traditional Pac-10 team. Mother Nature didn't seem too pleased either, dumping a week of rain and chilly temperatures on the area.

It wasn't until quarterback Vince Young guided the Longhorns to a thrilling 38-37 victory over Michigan -- decided on the final play by a wobbly kick off the right foot of Dusty Mangum -- that the debate finally settled down.

The Longhorns hadn't even left the field when they started talking about coming back.

"We all said our ultimate goal was to get back there and win," defensive tackle Frank Okam said. "You could see each piece of the puzzle fitting into place. The biggest piece is still sitting out there and that's the national championship."

Last season, the Trojans played in the BCS title game in the Orange Bowl in Miami, 2,700 miles and three times zones away. With the Trojans practicing and playing within a few miles from home for this one, the Longhorns expect a circus of celebrities and media hype around the game.

"It's going to be a Super Bowl-type atmosphere," defensive end Brian Robison said.

The Longhorns earned their Rose Bowl berth by going 12-0 for the first time in school history. They started the season ranked No. 2 and kept pace with No. 1 Southern Cal by winning at Ohio State, beating Oklahoma for the first time in six years and averaging 50.9 points per game. They won their first Big 12 championship since 1996.

Rose Bowl officials made several appearances at Texas games during the regular season, including the Longhorns' 52-17 drubbing of then-No. 8 Texas Tech back in October, in anticipation they would return.

Meanwhile, Texas kept an eye on the Trojans and their 34-game winning streak.

"When the rankings came out in the preseason, that's something that we thought about that would be fun to do at the end of the year," senior tight end David Thomas said. "We thought it would be cool to both go undefeated and play each other."

Texas players say they won't be intimidated by a Trojans team that boasts two Heisman Trophy winners in Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart and is being mentioned among the great dynasties in college football history.

"I don't know why people think this game is going to scare us," said Young, who passed for 2,769 yards and 26 touchdowns and also leads the team with 850 yards rushing. He finished second to Bush in this year's Heisman balloting.

"We're not going to be scared," Young said. "We're going to be pumped. Nervousness is not a part of the University of Texas."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press