GLENDALE, Ariz. – Texas won the football game Monday night.
And probably nothing else, unfortunately.
For one thrilling evening in Arizona’s desert , that would be enough.
The Longhorns put the wraps on one of the most exhilarating and satisfying seasons ever as Heisman runner-up Colt McCoy directed the nation’s third-ranked team to a late touchdown and a 24-21 victory over 10th-ranked Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Any shot at a split national championship , though, may have gone awry without a convincing win over a co-champion from a league that too few respect.
In all likelihood, the Florida-Oklahoma winner in Thursday’s BCS title game will take home the big prize unless unbeaten Utah’s longshot campaign takes hold. But Texas deserves to be in the conversation about No. 1.
For part of the night, Mack Brown’s team wasn’t even certain it would finish No. 1 at University of Phoenix Stadium. Ohio State played that inspired and had a defense that was that good.
But McCoy once again demonstrated why the junior should have been the Heisman Trophy winner, engineering his 10th comeback victory in a star-studded career that earned him a 32nd win as starter. With a year to go.
He’s Tim Tebow without the publicity blitz by national networks.
McCoy set Fiesta Bowl records with 41 completions and 59 attempts, and he needed every one of them, given the small amount of real estate the Ohio State defense allowed on the ground.
Texas somehow parsed together 72 yards rushing; it didn’t appear to be that many. With the running game broken, the Longhorns fixed themselves up by relying on their no-huddle offense and five-wide formation for 26 of their 87 plays. McCoy completed passes on 18 of those 26 plays for 224 yards, many to Jordan Shipley and Brandon Collins and one on a very important fourth-and-3 play to James Kirkendoll for a critical first down.
At the end, McCoy found his receiving partner Quan Cosby for a 26-yard touchdown pass to cap a 78-yard scoring drive and overcome a late Buckeye rally .
Atypical of the classy 26-year-old wideout, Cosby ran unimpeded for the last 20 yards and drew an excessive celebration penalty by diving into the end zone with 16 seconds to play.
Given the dramatic finish, one of the best in school history, he was completely justified. The NCAA should seriously review that arbitrary rule, too. Just whom exactly was Cosby taunting on the play?
Once Texas batted down an unsuccessful Hail Mary pass by the Buckeyes , the Longhorns began a more acceptable celebration of an electrifying 12-1 season that will be remembered as much for what could have been as what was.
What was was pretty darn special.
“Texas is an outstanding football team, ” said Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel.
So is Ohio State, in truth. Hey, it certainly didn’t embarrass itself. That’s major progress for a beleaguered Big Ten program beset by humiliating losses in the past two BCS title games. The Buckeyes played inspired football without Beanie Wells in the second half and with a freshman quarterback learning on the run.
The Longhorns defense hung tough and relied mostly on a nickel defense to stop an Ohio State offense that made great use of its version of the Q package. Theirs showed results. Terrelle Pryor ran for 78 yards and caught a touchdown pass from senior backup Todd Boeckman .
McCoy will enter next fall as a Heisman favorite , but Pryor won’t be far behind and could win one of the trophies himself before his career ends.
“Colt never thinks he’s going to lose, ” Brown said. “His career kind of started against Ohio State (in 2006). He’s got another year left to break the rest of the records. That last drive was a Heisman-type drive.”
Texas came within a single tantalizing second against Texas Tech of matching Utah’s perfect season and finishing 13-0. Even so, the Longhorns more than proved themselves by beating four Top 25 teams, two bowl winners (Missouri and Rice) and a top-ranked Oklahoma team back in the Stone Age .
The Horns should have set the table to start the 2009 season as they still hope to finish this one: atop the rankings. Mack said he’ll vote his team No. 1 , even though BCS rules require voting coaches to give the BCS title game victor the top spot.
Cosby and Brian Orakpo will be gone in 2009, along with defensive MVP Roy Miller and five other defensive starters from a unit that mostly kept Ohio State at bay, holding the Buckeyes to three field goals until two touchdowns in the final seven-plus minutes.
But McCoy will be back. And so will his favorite target, Shipley, along with four offensive line starters and more receivers than any secondary should have to cover.
“I don’t think anybody in the country can beat us at this point, ” said an exhausted McCoy . The Buckeyes came at McCoy all night, pressured him, roughed him up and hit him late, but he got back up and did what he’s done his entire career.
“I want to be in on the last drive to win a championship, ” McCoy said. “It easily shows the character of this team.”
When Ohio State took the lead and left Texas fewer than two minutes to change the outcome, McCoy completed 7 of 10 passes to win the bowl game.
As befitting the best player in the country on – arguably – the best team in the country.