University of Texas football: The road map from Vince Young to Sam Ehlinger
Every Texas football fan alive for the event (and some who have just seen the clip) has the image of Vince Young rushing past a USC defender to reach the right front corner of the end zone and clinch a national title for the Longhorns in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
It’s the high point for two generations of Texas football fans and stands as the high water mark for the last 49 years of the program.
Since then the program has been trying to re-reach that summit and with wildly-varying results, but going into 2019 they look to be on the cusp of returning to national champion-level competition.
Here’s a look at the eight moments that define the last 15 years of Texas football and serve as a road map as to how they went from Vince Young celebrating in Pasadena to Sam Ehlinger proclaiming “We’re Back!” on the podium in New Orleans.
1. Colt McCoy wins the starting job over Jevan Snead in 2006
The words Tuscola Jim Ned more than likely didn’t have any meaning at all to anyone outside of very specific pat of Northwest Texas before 2006, but since then it will forever be known as the home of one of the all-time great Texas quarterbacks in Colt McCoy. McCoy owns at least 50 school passing or quarterback records, over a dozen national awards including two Walter Camp Player of the Year Awards, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the Davey O’Brien Award among many others.
McCoy coming directly after Vince young gave the Longhorns two of their top five (some might argue the best two) quarterbacks of all time back to back. While Young was expected to be a superstar right out of high school, McCoy was a sleeper hit who came out of nowhere to take all of college football by storm.
His presence kept Texas in the national title hunt for most of his tenure on the 40 acres including a near miss at the title game in 2008 (we’ll get to that) and a national title appearance in 2009 (yep, we’ll get to that, too).
2. Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree breaks a tackle and scores to help the Red Raiders upset the Longhorns in 2008
There was a period of time in 2008 where Texas looked darn-near unbeatable. After disposing of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl the Longhorns caught fire with a decisive victory over No. 11 Missouri and a gritty win over No. 7 Oklahoma State, but a road date with Texas Tech stood between the Longhorns and an outright Big 12 South title.
Crazy things happen at Jones AT&T Stadium. Even crazier things are known to happen during night games in the building. Throw int the fact that Texas Tech was fielding what might have been its most talented team in school history and you have all the ingredients for chaos. That’s exactly what we all got.
After Texas had stormed back from a 22-6 halftime deficit to take a a 33-32 lead into the final minute of the game, the Red Raiders drove down the field and capped off of of the most exciting finishes in Big 12 history when Graham Harrell found Michael Crabtree on sideline route. Crabtree broke through a tackle, turned upfield and scored to give the Red Raiders a 39-33 advantage that would hold though the final seconds.
The loss took destiny out of the hands of the Longhorns - who wouldn’t lose another game for the rest for the year 0 and put it in the hands of the controversial BCS, which voted Oklahoma ahead of Texas despite Texas’ 45-35 win over the Sooners in the Red River Showdown earlier that year. Texas would miss out on a shot at Tim Tebow and Florida in the BCS National Championship Game and had to settle for a 24-21 win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and a second-place finish overall in the polls.
3. Colt McCoy’s injury in the 2009 National Championship Game
This one still hurts for Texas fans. The Longhorns. Colt McCoy came into his final start as the Texas quarterback having never missed a start due to injury, but one of the most durable quarterbacks in school history suffered a freak injury on the game’s fifth play from scrimmage and resulted McCoy losing all velocity in his throws. He was forced to sit on the sideline as the Longhorns struggled against the Crimson Tide on both sides of the ball in a 37-21 defeat.
The loss marked the end of a golden era of Texas football as their last conference championship and began a decade of disappointment that the Longhorns are just now digging their way out of. Many have gone back to wonder what could have been had the football gods been kinder to Texas on that day. The Longhorns were deep and dangerous in the passing game and may have been able to exploit the Crimson Tide’s defense with an experienced signal caller at the helm. If Texas beats Alabama, how does that change the national narrative? How different does this past decade go if Mack Brown gets a second ring and momentum going into 2010?
4. Mack Brown hires Bryan Harsin and Manny Diaz in 2011
After his first losing season at Texas Mack Brown decided it was time for some major changes. He let go longtime offensive coordinator Greg Davis. At the same time defensive coordinator and “head coach in waiting” Will Muschamp left for a head coaching job in Florida. Mack Brown decided to go looking for a pair of young, sharp minds to take over under him. in addition longtime assistant and former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite would move up to become co-coordinator alongside Harsin. Diaz came over from Mississippi State after a successful run in the SEC. Harsin was hired from Boise State after helping to shape one of the cutting edge offenses in the country for several years.
All three of these coaches have gone on to tremendous success, but for whatever reason they were never able to get things going in the right direction at Texas. in two years of Harsin and Diaz serving as coordinators the Longhorns failed to win 10 games. Harsin left after the 2012 season to to take the head coach job at Arkansas State. Diaz was let go following a 40-21 loss to BYU in 2013. Applewhite would share coordinator duties with Darrell Wyatt in 2013.
Once again these were all good coaches and probably good decisions for Texas, but they also signified the beginning of the end of the Mack Brown era.
5. The 2011 break up with Texas A&M
Texas football entered a new era on Nov. 24 2011 with a 27-25 win over their rival Texas A&M: the post Lodestar Showdown era.
Convoluted conference politics plus a sweet offer from the SEC the culprits in ending what had been one of the college football’s best traditions. Sure, both UT and A&M fans are both probably too proud to admit they need each other, but theres a gaping hole in both teams’ schedules as well as the Thanksgiving college football schedule as a whole now that these two teams don’t meet. It changed the sport for the worse.
6. Mack Brown out, Charlie Strong in for 2013
Mack Brown was out after another underperforming season in 2012 and the Texas board of regents was out to make a splash hire. While wild rumors about the likes of Nick Saban and John Gruden were thrown around, the powers that be settled on a tough-minded defensive coach that had led Louisville to back-to-back 11-plus-win seasons including a Sugar Bowl appearance in 2012.
There are a lot of theories as to what went wrong for Strong at Texas, but it’s hard to argue that his time on the 40 acres was far from successful in the end. He was a part of three-straight losing seasons - the first such stretch for Texas football since 1935-38. The program’s previous clout always kept them in the national spotlight, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing as things got embarrassing, especially toward the end.
6. Texas loses to Kansas 24-21 in 2016
OK Texas fans, this list is going to get better, but we have to hit rock bottom before it can, just like Texas finally did in 2016 when it blew a 21-10 lead to fall to Kansas. It was a low point for Texas football, but it also helped knock all parties involved off the fence when it came to what to do about Charlie Strong and the coaching position. The game took place on Nov. 19 and by Nov. 26 Strong was out the door to make way for a new era and what Texas fans are hoping is a light at the end of the tunnel.
7. The Longhorns hire Tom Herman for the 2017 season
In what seemed like a no-brainer decision Texas brought in one of the brightest young coaching stars in college football to lead their program when they hired Tom Herman prior to the 2017 season. Herman was fresh off leading Houston to a 22-4 record in two seasons at the helm of the program. He had beaten the Longhorns chief rival Oklahoma in the 2016 season opener and Florida State in the previous year’s Peach Bowl to put the college football world on notice.
In 2017 he pulled Texas out of its losing season streak with a 7-6 mark including a dominating 33-16 win over Missouri in the Texas Bowl - the Longhorns’ first bowl victory since 2012. He went on to post a top three recruiting class after the year was over to set up an even more successful 2018.
After posting nine wins, beating Oklahoma 45-42 in the regular season and making the Big 12 Championship Game for the first time since 2009 he set up the final moment on this list.
8. Texas beats Georgia 28-21 in the Sugar Bowl
Texas’ win over Oklahoma a few months prior was a warning shot to the rest of college football, but a physically dominating 28-21 victory over Georgia showed the Longhorns were done with warnings. Texas announced itself back on the national football scene with their first post-New Years bowl victory since 2008 and a second-straight postseason win over the mighty SEC.
In some ways it’s reminiscent of previous New Years Six bowl wins over Michigan in 2004 and Ohio State in 2008. Both of those wins set the table for national title appearances the next year. Could Texas be in a similar situation in 2019?