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Texas History: Counting down the 5 moments that shaped the Mack Brown Era: The 2005 Rose Bowl

Posted July 10th, 2018

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This fall marks the 20th anniversary of the Mack Brown Era starting at Texas. During that time Brown won 158 games, a national championship and a total of 10 bowl games. 

But what are the five moments of his 16 years at Texas that shaped his tenure? Over the next few days we’ll reveal the five moments that help tell the Mack Brown story on the 40 Acres:

Here’s the list so far:

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No. 5 Oklahoma hires Bob Stoops

No. 4 Mack picks Colt

No.3 Ricky returns

No. 2 The 2005 Rose Bowl

Kirk Bohls wrote it was time to make some changes. 

John Kelso, the Statesman’s legendary columnist, begged Oklahoma to hire him for any job, even comparing him to a Yugo car.

It was a few days after the latest bowl game loss to Washington State 28-20 to end the 2003 season with a 10-3 record.

Since taking over the program in 1998, Mack Brown had records of 9-3, 9-5, 9-3, 11-2, 11-2 and now 10-3, so the frustration seemed odd in retrospect but in real-time seemed more valid. While Brown had built amazing regular season records, the embarrassing losses to Oklahoma in 2000 and 2003, along with Big 12 title game loss to Colorado in 2001 and the bowl losses in 1999, 2000 and now 2003 gave the appearance that Texas wasn’t at its best in big games. The talented recruits Brown brought in were good enough to win 32 games in three seasons, but weren’t good enough to compete with college football’s elite teams.

It was mostly perception. But it was perception created by a coaching staff that bungled the quarterback situation for two seasons and had most of the fan base turn on a player, Chris Simms. It was Brown and his staff flipping and flopping through the Vince Young- Chance Mock situation in 2003. The perception was maybe the coaching staff was Texas’ worst enemy– how else could one explain why so much talented could yield so little major college football success.

The perception was Texas was underachieving.

MORE: Daily Longhorn football history: The 2004 season

Was Mack Brown in any peril of losing his job? Unlikely. Texas was still winning double-digit games at a clip not seen since the hey-day of the Fred Akers era. Brown had positioned the Longhorns back to a spot it was at before the down years of David McWilliams and John Mackovic. However there was a belief that maybe, just maybe, Brown wasn’t capable of leading the Longhorns to the next level.

Was it possible that Texas needed to follow the path of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL and replace Brown with a coach who could? In the late 1990s, Tony Dungy had build the Bucs into one of the league’s best teams after years of terrible football. But after several big game disappointments, Dungy was fired and replaced with Jon Gruden, a young coach with a brilliant offensive mind. The move was controversial, but it worked. The Bucs won the Super Bowl in Gruden’s first season in 2002.

Luckily for the program, it never got that far. And that’s why 2004’s Rose Bowl win is a monumental event in the Mack Brown tenure.

The Longhorns had perhaps the most talented team of Brown’s 16 seasons. The greatest running back Mack Brown ever signed to a NLOI, Cedric Benson, was one of the leading Heisman favorites returning and would win the Doak Walker Award his senior season. Derrick Johnson was the greatest defensive player Brown ever coached and won just about every award a college linebacker can win his senior year.

David Thomas, Limas Sweed, Bo Scaife, Romance Taylor, Selvin Young were just a few other players on offense. Michael Huff, Aaron Harris, Cedric and Michael Griffin, Brian Robison, Frank Okam and Rodrique Wright were some of the defensive players.

The biggest question was whether Vince Young was going to be the starter still after being pulled for Mock in the bowl loss to Washington State.

Associated Press voters understood how much talented was at Texas, as the Longhorns began the season ranked No.7.

What happened next was one of the best seasons in Mack Brown’s career. The Longhorns lost only one game during the 2004 regular season. After losing 65-13 to Oklahoma the year before, Texas lost to OU 12-0 and allowed just one touchdown, coming in the fourth quarter, in a tight game. Oklahoma went undefeated and played for the BCS title that season.

The rest of Texas’ games were mostly lopsided wins aside from memorable contests against Arkansas in Fayetteville, Missouri at home and the “BCS” game in Lawrence, Kan. against the Jayhawks. 

Texas capped the season with a 26-13 win over No. 22 Texas A&M and be in the mix to play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day against Michigan.

It happened, but it didn’t come without some snickering. Brown was criticized for lobbying for his team’s Rose Bowl appearance over California of the Pac-10. How close was Texas to missing the 2004 Rose Bowl? Cal, quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers, was No.4 in the BCS with its only loss coming to the No.1 team, USC. Texas’ only loss was the No. 2 team, Oklahoma.

On Dec. 4, Cal played a make-up game because of Hurricane Ivan against Southern Mississippi and won 26-16. Cal didn’t believe the margin of victory would impact the computer numbers, but it did however impact the human numbers. When the final BCS results were revealed, Texas was sent to the Rose Bowl by just .0102 points over Cal.

At 10-1 and playing in Texas’ first BCS bowl game, a loss to No. 12 Michigan would have been a dagger to Brown’s reputation and would have pushed the Longhorns coach into another offseason of questions. Instead of people looking at the roster and realizing all the talent returning, people would enter the season wondering if Brown was the right coach. Again.

PHOTOS: Texas football at the 2005 Rose Bowl against Michigan

Michigan was 9-2 and the Big 10 co-champions. A loss to bitter rival Ohio State, 37-21, kept the Wolverines from winning the conference outright and they had to share the titles with Iowa. With four teams undefeated at the top of the BCS standings, USC, Auburn, Oklahoma and Utah, it was Oklahoma and USC that played for the title.

Given that both Texas and Michigan would be on a short list of 2005 teams that could win the national championship, the 2005 Rose Bowl acted as a preview for next season while also showcasing some of the top players in the 2005 draft. From Johnson and Benson to Michigan’s Braylon Edwards, Marlin Jackson and Davis Baas, five of the 2005 NFL first round picks played in this game, including the No. 3 pick (Edwards) and the No. 4 pick (Benson).

What ensued was one of the best Rose Bowl Games of the last 30 years.

Tied at 14 at halftime, Michigan responded to a Young 60-yard touchdown run with 17 consecutive points in the third quarter to take a 31-21 lead into the fourth.

Imagine what Twitter would have been like at the end of the third quarter?

Young took over in the fourth — a Rose Bowl trend for the star quarterback. He scored rushing touchdowns of 10 and 23 yards to give Texas a 35-34 lead with 4:56 to go.

Then disaster happened as Michigan used a 53-year return from Steve Breaston to help set up a go-head 42-yard field goal with 3:04 remaining in the game.

Working quickly, Young got to it.

He reeled off a 9-yard run, later a 14-yard run and picked up two first downs himself. Texas went 47 yards in nine plays before calling a timeout with two seconds remaining down by two points.

Dusty Mangum went out to kick the biggest Longhorn bowl game field goal in decades, and probably ever.

From Statesman reporter Kevin Robbins: 

Michigan called a timeout.

Mangum walked in a slow circle. He sang a favorite song under his helmet. He did not hear the largest crowd ever to watch a Texas football game. He never does.

Mangum bent and touched the turf.

He bounced twice on his precious feet and stretched his kicking leg. The din of 93,468 hoarse voices rose.

Mack Brown approached.

You’re the luckiest human being in the world, ” the coach told his kicker, who could do nothing at that moment but nod.

Mangum went on to kick the winning field goal with no time left to give Brown his then signature moment at Texas.

“There will never be a better ballgame in the Rose Bowl, ” Brown told reporters (not knowing what would happen a little more than a year later). “There may be some as good, but none will be better.”

The moment also ended, at least for the rest of the decade, any talk about Brown’s status as the coach of the Longhorns.

Bohls captured this in his column after the game: 

 Luckily for a Texas football program that this season conjured up all sorts of mystical qualities to spirit away victories when reality suggested otherwise, its magic had no expiration date.

But for once the school’s reputation as underachievers does.

With the Rose Bowl hosting the BCS National Championship game in 2006, Young told reporter “We’ll be back.”

Texas would be back. Starting the 2005 season ranked No. 2 in then nation with one of the best returning quarterbacks in college football.

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