4 Texas For two of Austin's biggest names--Mack Brown and Chris Simms--it's time for all that potential to pay off

August 11, 2002

In some ways Chris Simms has scarcely adapted to life at Texas.
Though Austin teems with trendy restaurants and terrific Tex-Mex
food, Simms's abbreviated list of acceptable dining
establishments is topped by Chili's. Despite having spent more
than three years in the Lone Star State, he refuses to say
"y'all," no matter the context. "I'm still a 'you guys' guy,"
says the New Jersey native. "I won't even say that word out
loud."

While he may never be a true son of the Southland, Simms is now
Texas's undisputed starting quarterback. It was no secret that
the departed Major Applewhite was the sentimental favorite of
many Texas supporters. Applewhite was a red-haired and freckled
underdog, lightly recruited out of high school and generously
listed at 6'1" and 207 pounds. Now a senior, the 6'5", 225-pound,
blond Simms is the equivalent of football royalty. He is the son
of Phil Simms, the former New York Giants quarterback and Super
Bowl MVP, and as a senior in high school he was the USA Today
Offensive Player of the Year.

When coach Mack Brown named Simms his starter entering the 2000
season, many Longhorns fans felt the promotion was based more on
pedigree than performance. Applewhite regained the job midway
through the season before injuring his right knee. Simms started
all 12 regular-season games last year but threw four
interceptions (one was returned for a touchdown) in a 14-3 loss
to Oklahoma and threw three more in the Big 12 championship game
loss to Colorado. In the latter game Applewhite came off the
bench to lead a spirited rally that fell just short. Applewhite
played the entire Holiday Bowl, a 47-43 shootout win over
Washington. Simms's critics say he looks great on the sidelines
but doesn't answer the call in big games--at least not as well as
the overachieving Applewhite did.

Brown doesn't buy it. As he points out, Simms is 15-4 as a
starter (Applewhite was 22-8), with three of the losses coming
against Top 10 teams. And Simms's 58.3% career completion rate is
a school record. "People hold Chris to a different standard,"
Brown says. "No quarterback plays well every single game. But
Chris has great height, he can really move for a big guy, he has
a terrific arm, and he spends countless hours in the film room."
Simms is also a football lifer. When someone mentions a January
1986 playoff game between the Giants and the Chicago Bears, he
casually offers that he happened to watch tape of that very game
a few days before. As much as Simms likes to talk football,
though, he's glad that there will be no quarterback controversy
in Austin this season. "This year it's just me," Simms says, "and
that's good for our team. The focus will be on the team as a
whole."

It's a team talented enough to win Texas's first national title
in 32 years. Brown's reputation as an ace recruiter was cemented
when Simms rescinded an oral commitment to Tennessee and signed
with Texas in '99. In his five signing-day classes since taking
over at Texas, Brown has reeled in 28 players who made USA
Today's All-America team. It would be hard for a kid not to be
impressed when Brown sits him in his office and lays on the
charm, especially since the room is big enough to land a
helicopter in and houses enough Longhorns memorabilia to launch a
fair-sized museum. Though Brown chafes at his team's perennial
front-runner status in the woefully inexact science of recruiting
rankings--after all, if the team with the best players can't win,
aren't the coaches to blame?--he knows that acquiring talent is
the lifeblood of college football. "We don't lose too many
recruits who come on campus," Brown says. "Not many guys walk out
of here without becoming Longhorns."

That talent haul is particularly noticeable at the skill
positions. Sophomore tailback Cedric Benson is a 6-foot,
205-pound package of speed and power. He rushed for 1,053 yards--a
record for a Texas freshman--and 12 TDs in '01 though he didn't
start until the sixth game. When Simms isn't handing off to
Benson, he can throw to the wideout trio of Roy Williams, B.J.
Johnson and Sloan Thomas or tight end Bo Scaife, a sublimely
athletic group of juniors. None are shorter than 6'1" or weigh
less than 200 pounds, and together they combined for 167 catches
for 2,206 yards and 17 scores last season. Texas needs to find
three new starters on the offensive line, but that's why Brown
stockpiles all those high school All-Americas in the first place.
On the other side of the ball the Longhorns must replace six
starters on the unit that led the nation in total defense, but
with standouts like junior cornerback Nathan Vasher and senior
defensive end Cory Redding, Texas won't have a problem stopping
teams.

Still, the Longhorns must show that they can convert all that
potential into big-game victories. A daunting schedule, including
a trip to Nebraska and the showdown with Oklahoma in Dallas,
provides plenty of opportunities. "Our motto is, No more
excuses," says Simms. "We are extremely talented, and we're not
young anymore. We would like to leave our mark. This is our year
to do it." --Pete McEntegart

COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL LONG-ARMED Tight end Scaife is one of a number of big targets in the Longhorns' passing game.

FAST FACTS

2001 RECORD: 11-2 (7-1, 1st in Big 12 South)
FINAL RANKING: No. 5 AP, No. 5 coaches' poll

TELLING NUMBER

15
Career TD catches by junior wideout Roy Williams, one shy of the
school record of 16, set by Mike Adams from 1992 to '96.

FIVE KEY RETURNEES

QB Chris Simms [Sr.]
Seven INTs in team's two losses

RB Cedric Benson [Soph.]
Had 867 yards in final seven games

CB Nathan Vasher [Jr.]
Seven INTs, 15.0 yards on punt returns

LB Derrick Johnson [Soph.]
83 tackles despite just two starts

WR B.J. Johnson [Jr.]
47.4 yard avg. on seven TD catches

ENEMY LINES
An opposing coach's view

A better defensive system makes Texas dangerous

"If Chris Simms has a good year they'll be a great team, but I'm
still not sold on him. He's got the tools, but it seems like he
panics sometimes. He'll always throw picks because he's got a bad
habit of really eyeballing where he's going with the ball....
Cedric Benson is a good, tough runner.... Roy Williams and B.J.
Johnson are outstanding receivers. Williams gives you more
problems because he's bigger (6'4").... The difference in the
program this year is that Texas is playing much better
defense.... Derrick Johnson can track guys down from his
linebacker spot, and Cory Redding is a big-time defensive end....
Nathan Vasher and Roderick Babers are experienced, athletic, fast
corners. They play a lot of man coverage.... Teams that can run
and throw the ball well--keep the Longhorns off-balance--can beat
them."

SCHEDULE
Strength: 48th

Aug. 31 NORTH TEXAS
Sept. 14 at North Carolina
21 HOUSTON
28 at Tulane
Oct. 5 OKLAHOMA STATE
12 OKLAHOMA*
19 at Kansas State
26 IOWA STATE
Nov. 2 at Nebraska
9 BAYLOR
16 at Texas Tech
Fri. 29 TEXAS A&M

* at Dallas

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)