He could not have been more gracious. Two days before the
Longhorns' 1998 regular-season finale, Major Applewhite stood
before his teammates and coaches with tears streaming down his
face. He thanked Richard Walton, whose injury earlier that fall
had allowed Applewhite, then a redshirt freshman, to take over
the starting quarterback job, a position he didn't relinquish. "I
know I've been credited with a lot of success," said the former
understudy, who'd later be selected the Big 12 freshman of the
year, "but I truly wish that success could have been credited to
This summer Applewhite is suffering from a reversal of
misfortune. After tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament in
last January's Cotton Bowl loss to Arkansas, the junior is in
jeopardy of losing his job to his onetime understudy, sophomore
Chris Simms. "I've been through a situation like this," says
Applewhite, the 1999 Big 12 offensive player of the year. "I'm
not looking at who's here or who's coming in."
Coach Mack Brown has delayed anointing a starter, which has only
intensified the debate over the fiercest quarterback duel in the
nation. Applewhite insists that his knee is healed, but longtime
Longhorns watchers and even some Texas coaches remain
unconvinced--or are too lovestruck with Simms to be convinced.
The 6'5", 210-pound Simms has four inches on Applewhite, not to
mention a rifle arm and regal bloodlines. (His father is former
New York Giants star Phil Simms.) Says one Texas assistant,
"Both guys can make big plays with their head and their arm, but
Chris can also make big plays with his feet. He's such a quick
learner and he brings so many intangibles."
Simms was brilliant during the spring, connecting on 16 of 21
passes and four touchdowns in one scrimmage while a healing
Applewhite sat. "Chris came 100 miles," says Brown. "It's
impossible to ask any freshman to do well at quarterback, but he
gained a lot of confidence running the team in the spring."
Whoever runs the team will be under intense scrutiny. With depth
on both sides of the ball and a recruiting class that rivals any
in the country, national-title fever has returned to the Forty
Acres. "We're on the verge of being the Texas Longhorns of the
past," says senior running back Hodges Mitchell, one of only two
players to have 1,300 rushing yards and 300 receiving yards in
'99. "We've been taking baby steps the last few years, but now
we're ready to show we can compete with the best."
1999 record: 9-5 (6-2, 1st in Big 12 South)
Final ranking: No. 21 AP, No. 23 coaches' poll
Spots higher in national passing defense ranking for Texas in
'99 (12th) than in '98 (92nd).
An opposing team's coach sizes up The Longhorns
"The teams that beat Texas blitzed the quarterback and hit him.
Major's a tough sucker. He'll stand in there and take a
shot....I like Simms's poise....Bo Scaife runs well. They
haven't used the tight end, but with Scaife, those young
receivers will have time to learn....With those two inside guys
on D, Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers, it's like squatters'
rights. Keep 'em moving with traps and counters."
Strength: 67th of 115
Sept. 9 LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
16 at Stanford
30 OKLAHOMA STATE
Oct. 7 vs. Oklahoma*
14 at Colorado
Nov. 4 at Texas Tech
11 at Kansas
24 TEXAS A&M
["TELLING NUMBER" COMPILED BY DAVID SABINO]