It wasn't all that long ago that virtually every story written about Mack Brown was his seeming inability to win the Big Games. For the Longhorn faithful, that really meant, can't win THE Big Game, as in, Oklahoma. Five straight losses to the Sooners created a long line of Mack Brown doubters, creating the caricature of "Mr. February."
With an undisputed national title under his belt, no one can touch Mack Brown any more. (Undoubtedly, the next time Texas loses we'll see stories suggesting Mack only won with Vince Young. Ignore them. Every national title team only wins because of their stars.)
Even with the five straight losses to OU, Mack's only 3-5 against the Sooners; remember, he won in both 1998 and '99. In fact, you might just call that five year drought the Curse of that Annoying Little Bitch We Couldn't Stop (a.k.a. Quentin Griffin). He's gone, and so is the losing streak. And as with all things college football, we'll win some more and lose some more.
Today's topic, though, turns us to Mack's record in other big games; specifically, bowl games. We'll take them one by one so as not to create an unmanageably large post. First up, the 1999 Cotton Bowl, featuring #20 Texas vs #25 Mississippi State.
The 1999 Cotton Bowl: Texas 38 Mississippi State 11
The 1999 Cotton Bowl was an important game for Texas. It was Mack Brown's first year at the helm and Ricky Williams had just won the Heisman Trophy. As you may recall, at the conclusion of the 1997 season, Texas had embarrassingly missed the postseason for the second time in four years under John Mackovic, and in its two appearances, had been defeated decisively by Penn State and Virginia Tech.
The 1998 season hadn't started particularly well for the Horns, who lost 2 of their first three, the losses coming at UCLA and at Kansas State. Texas then won six in a row before losing in Lubbock, including a terrific 20-16 win over #7 Nebraska in Lincoln. The regular season finale against Texas A&M was icing on the cake, as Ricky broke the career NCAA rushing record and Texas beat the then 6th ranked Aggies 26-24 on a late field goal.
That set up the Horns first Cotton Bowl appearance since the 1991 drubbbing at the hands of Miami. On a rainy and foggy day in Dallas, Ricky Williams picked up where he left off, amassing 203 yards rushing, with 2 touchdowns, on 30 carries. Major Applewhite opened the game with a 59 yard strike to Wayne McGarity that put the Horns up 7-0. Neither team scored again until just over 5 minutes remaining in the half when Applewhite again found McGarity, this time for 52 yards, and Texas was up 14-0. After Mississippi State got a late field goal to cut the halftime lead to 14-3, the second half was set up for Ricky.
Williams rushed for 104 yards and 2 TDs in the 3rd quarter alone, including a beautiful 37 yard rush to give Texas a 21-3 lead. Ricky's 203 yards rushing in a bowl game remains a Longhorn bowl game record, though Vince Young's 200 in the Rose Bowl was just a wee bit more impressive.
The 1999 Cotton Bowl was the perfect ending for Mack Brown's first season at Texas. The Horns weren't perfect, and rarely dominant, but they got things going in the right direction. With Longhorn fans deeply frustrated by the run of mediocrity under John Mackovic, it was a reassuring season that began the climb back to the top.
Mack Brown versus Oklahoma: 1-0
Mack Brown in Bowl Games: 1-0
Next up: The 1999 season and the 2000 Cotton Bowl. With heightened expectations, Mack starts to get his Big Game reputation.