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Texas History: Counting down the 5 moments that shaped the Mack Brown Era: Beating USC

Posted July 11th, 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

No. 1 Beating USC

When Texas arrived at Pasadena in January 2006, the Longhorns were the underdog. For a team that hadn’t lost in more than a year, that was a different feeling. Facing the defending two-time national championship (technically, USC shared the 2003 title with LSU, but they did win it convincingly in 2004), Texas had an uphill challenge.

Texas had to overcome a team that sported two Heisman Trophy winners, were playing near USC’s Los Angeles campus and were facing the nation’s longest winning streak.

Texas coach Mack Brown had never faced a team quite like the one he would play on Jan. 4, 2006.

Brown’s North Carolina teams played great Florida State squads of the 1990s with few success. Brown’s Texas teams had played talented Oklahoma teams, but those teams were no where the level of a USC squad that featured 26 players who would be drafted over the next three years, including six first-round picks from 2006 to 2008.

PHOTOS: The 2006 Rose Bowl

The 2005 USC team would be the best  Mack Brown would coach against at Texas (yes, the 2005 Trojans were better than the 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide), and his win over the Trojans is probably what most people outside the Big 12, the state of Texas and especially Austin know him best for.

Without this win, Brown’s entire legacy is different. Without this win, is Brown a College Football Hall of Famer?

Over the years, no single game has been written more about in the Statesman’s sports section than the 2006 Rose Bowl.

Here are a few of the best pieces:

The bottom line is the Rose Bowl in 2006 is one of the greatest games ever played.

The coaching differences were pretty striking. There was some cool-dad, dorky-dad comparison vibes. Carroll was the superstar coach with the flashy program and fun-loving attitude. Brown was the folksy coach loaded with talent but had a history of coming up short with an awe-shucks attitude.

Here is a section from Cedric Golden’s story the day of the BCS title game:

Brown could top off a historic period in his career with a win here. He nearly apologized for taking eight seasons to make it to a title game, but expressed no surprise at being in this position. He confidently said his team is prepared to take its best shot with a chance to bring Texas its first national football title since 1970.

“Coach Royal and I have talked about this from the beginning,” Brown said. “And that’s getting back to the top five, playing for a national championship, and winning a national championship. Young people come to Texas and USC to play in these games.”

The shadow of Darrell Royal seemed to hang over Brown.

Despite Royal being retired for nearly 30 years and being retired as the athletic director for more than 20, he was the standard-bearer of the program. Kirk Bohls’ column the day of the game led with Royal describing the difference between Vince Young and James Street.

Bohls’ column summed it up like this: 

Brown is the fourth head coach in Austin since Royal to take a crack at returning the third-winningest football program of all time to the top of the heap. All he has to do is beat the team regarded as the greatest of all time.

USC may be on a collision course with history, but Texas has been feeling very nostalgic itself as it flirts with the school’s fourth national championship.

Somebody’s going to beat USC someday, we know that.

So why not Texas?

When Texas came away the winner 41-38, the opening line of Randy Riggs’ story on the game was perfect: 

The nice guy finally finished first.

The win secured Texas’ first national championship since 1970 and it was Texas’ first undefeated season since 1969. Brown became the second coach at Texas to win the title and in one calendar year exorcised demons that piled on in Texas resume.

He beat Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl a year and four days before beating USC, showing he could win the “big game.” He beat a highly-ranked Ohio State team on the road. The Longhorns crushed Oklahoma 45-12 – snapping five game losing streak to OU.  He won the Big 12 title game against Colorado 70-3 – 2001’s Big 12 title loss to Colorado is perhaps Brown’s worst moment at Texas, so dropping 70 points in the same game against the Buffaloes was some flex.

From this point forward, Brown had cemented himself as the second greatest coach in Texas history. Brown was often left out of the “best coaches” conversation at the time because he hadn’t won the title yet and had so many big game failures. With this win wrapping up an 18-month reputation make-over, Brown showed he belonged among the Jim Tressells, Nick Sabans, Pete Carrolls and, yes, Bob Stoopses of the college football world.

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