The biggest 'What ifs' of Texas football


Posted April 20th, 2017

Sports Illustrated recently took fans down a “would’ve-should’ve-could’ve” road and offered a glimpse of a universe where the San Diego Chargers get Peyton Manning, Donald Trump buys the Buffalo Bills and Babe Ruth gets sold not to the Yankees.

It’s a series of interesting articles borne on a million barstools across multiple generations.

But what about Texas football’s biggest what ifs?


Here we go:

What if Mack Brown sticks with Major Applewhite?

Texas quarterback Major Applewhite, left, is a happy camper on the sidelines with backup Chris Simms, right, after Simms made a fourth quarter appearance for a TD pass against Stanford. Taylor Jones/American-Statesman contributor

Major Applewhite redshirted in 1997 and was the starting quarterback during Mack Brown’s first season in 1998 at Texas. He went 8-2, threw a 97-yard touchdown to Wane McGarity against Oklahoma and captured the hearts of Texas fans. Year Two, Applehwhite was the starting quarterback, but superstar recruit Chris Simms was on the roster. Applewhite led Texas to a Big 12 south title, but Texas lost three straight games to end the season. Simms took the majority of the snaps against Texas A&M, Applewhite took all the snaps against No.3-ranked Nebraska, but was sacked seven times in that Big 12 Championship game and sacked five times in the bowl game against Arkansas.

Applewhite and Simms were in a full-on quarterback battle in 2000, Applewhite struggling, and losing to Simms. Simms struggling and losing to Applewhite. Eventually Brown settled on Simms for the rest of the year and Applewhite entered his senior year as the back-up. Simms is the starter in 2001 and leads a loaded Texas roster to a No. 3 ranking and the Big 12 Championship Game against Colorado. Simms is terrible in the game, throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble.

Trailing Colorado 29-10, and amidst Texas fans’ booing of Simms, who injured his finger, Brown turns to Applewhite, who leads a furious comeback, even throwing a 79-yard touchdown. Texas falls 39-37 and ruins its chances to play in the BCS title game. Applewhite starts the 2001 Holiday Bowl and plays one of the best games in football history, throwing for 473 yards and four touchdowns and is named the bowl’s MVP.

If Applewhite is the starter all season, does Texas loses to Oklahoma 14-3 in 2001? Without Simms’ turnovers, does Texas beat Colorado and play Miami in the championship game? Does it matter because Miami was going to win anyway? The Hurricanes beat Nebraska 37-14 in the Rose Bowl that season. We’ll never know.

What if Texas hires Mike Campbell instead of Fred Akers?

Hand out photo courtesy of the University of Texas Athletics Department of Coach Fred Akers. Received 09/25/07.

Older Texas fans will remember this controversy well. Campbell was the longtime defensive guru for legendary coach Darrell Royal. But when Royal retired, Campbell was not hired to succeed his mentor. Instead Texas hired Akers, who had been the offensive coordinator at Texas but had left to become the head coach at Wyoming in 1975. Because of Akers experience at Wyoming, where he went from 2-9 in year one to 8-4 in year two, Texas officials thought he was better equipped to be the next head coach.

But Royal, who began coaching with Campbell at Mississippi State, is said to have favored Campbell as his replacement, and when Texas hired Akers, Campbell decided to retire.

If Texas hires Campbell instead of Akers, there’s a good chance nothing really changes for Texas. Earl Campbell probably still wins the Heisman in Mike Campbell’s first season as head coach, and Akers did go 11-1 in his first season as head coach. According to Akers, he never had any issues with Royal over the situation, but does Mike Campbell have the same success as Akers if he gets the job? Does Mike Campbell break through and lead the Longhorns to a title in 1977 or 1981, unlike Akers?

What if Darrell Royal leaves for his alma mater, Oklahoma?

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Darrell Royal went to the University of Oklahoma and played quarterback and defensive back under the great Bud Wilkinson. Royal’s first college head coaching job came in 1954 when he was hired by Mississippi State. After a short stay there and at the University of Washington, Texas hired Royal in 1957 and the birth of modern-day Texas football commenced. They named the stadium after him and he won three national championships in that time on the 40 Acres.

Royal’s first title at Texas came in 1963, Wilkinson’s last year at Oklahoma. What if, with Royal having won a title at Texas, Oklahoma hadn’t listen to Wilkinson, like Texas didn’t listen to Royal in 1976, and instead of hiring Gomer Jones, had offered the head coaching job to the head coach of one of their biggest rivals? Oklahoma had three head coaches from the end of the Wilkinson era to the hiring of Barry Switzer in 1973.

Everything is different at Texas if this happens.

What if James Street picked just one sport at Texas?

James Street, left, receives congratulations from former President Lyndon B. Johnson, right, as University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal looks on following the Longhorns win over Notre Dame in the 1970 Cotton Bowl. The win helped Texas claim the national championship and helped lift Street to legendary status among UT football fans.

James Street is one of the greatest baseball players in Longhorn history and the quarterback of the 1969 National Championship team at Texas. In today’s world, he might have been forced to pick a sport. If he chooses baseball, does Texas still win the title?

What if Blake Gideon hangs on and Micheal Crabtree steps out of bounds?

ORG XMIT: AAS0811012348393976 Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree moves out of the hold of Texas’ Curtis Brown and teammate Earl Thomas to score the winning touchdown in Lubbock on Saturday, November 1, 2008.

In 2008, one game changed a lot of Texas and Big 12 football history.

Freshman Blake Gideon had a chance to put a close game against Texas Tech in Lubbock away with an interception. But he couldn’t hang on to the ball. Tech had another chance to win the game with eight seconds remaining and on the 28-yard line. Gideon hangs on to the ball, Texas wins 33-32, heads to the Big 12 Championship Game to play Missouri instead of Oklahoma (who beat Missouri 62-21) and possibly goes on to play for the BCS National Championship, instead of the Longhorns.

But even after Gideon’s drop, Texas still had a chance to win, if not for Michael Crabtree. The receiver was this close to stepping out of bounds on a game-winning, 28-yard touchdown. He was this close to being tackled after not stepping out of bounds. It’s one of the greatest plays in Big 12 history.

What if Texas avoids those goofy plays, wins the Big 12 south, crushes Missouri in the conference championship game, faces Florida in the title game and two of the most famous college players of that era, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow, play for a championship?

What if Colt McCoy doesn’t get hurt against Alabama?

Former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis had plenty to smile about with quarterback Colt McCoy after winning the 2009 Big 12 championship, a victory that propelled UT into the BCS championship game against Alabama. Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman staff

The best quarterback in college football in 2009 was Colt McCoy, and he had the Longhorns in the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama in January of 2010. McCoy was injured on the fifth play of the Longhorns’ first drive, which ironically began after a Blake Gideon interception. McCoy was hit by Marcell Dareus and pinched a nerve in his throwing shoulder.

Let’s say McCoy doesn’t get hurt. Texas was still the underdog in the matchup against No. 1 Alabama, but Garrett Gilbert, the backup to McCoy fared OK against Alabama for a college player seeing his first significant action ever. Gilbert threw two interceptions late in the second quarter that led to 10 points and a 24-6 Alabama lead at halftime. McCoy probably doesn’t commit those mistakes.

Others to consider: What if the SWC never breaks up? What if the Longhorn Network never happens? What if Texas outspent SMU for Eric Dickerson (we kid, we kid)? Vince Young as a senior? Johnny Manziel, Texas safety? Houston native Andrew Luck picks home state Texas instead over Stanford? Mack Brown isn’t forced out after nearly winning the Big 12 in 2013. All the easily make-able kicks missed during the Charlie Strong era are converted. And of course, Texas doesn’t lose to Kansas in 2016.