After the 1999 season unceremoniously ended with a dud against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, Texas prepared for what was going to be "the breakthrough season." Almost every program has endured this before. In case you're a little new to the game, here's how it works.
After several years of disappointment for your major program, your AD cans the underachieving coach. Then, blaring trumpets and throwing rice, your AD hires the Hot Guy who's been doing a great job at a mid-tier program and just needs a big time program to win it all. This coach gets a one or two year honeymoon, immediately after which The Breakthrough Season is predicted by the punditry.
This year, for example, the perfect pundit storm is brewing down in Gainesville, where year two of the Urban Meyer era is ready for "the big breakthrough." It happens every year, and likely will until the sun swallows the Earth.
Anyway, the breakthrough year sticker was slapped on the Texas Longhorns and Mack Brown before the 2000 season. Applewhite was returning, albeit on a surgically repaired knee, and even if he faltered, Super Football Clan Prep Star Chris Simms was waiting in the wings as a true sophomore. (Cough, cough, Jimmy, Claussen, Cough)
The defense returned both Casey Hampton and Shaun Rogers in the middle, as well as Corey Redding on the end. Hodges Mitchell had proved himself a solid tailback; certainly enough to compliment a strong passing attack. Freshmen phenoms Roy Williams and BJ Johnson arrived in Austin to great fanfare. Mack Brown's recruiting classes were getting proper 11-star slobbage.
This was gonna be the big year.
So the #6 preseason ranked Texas Longhorns opened up at home against Louisiana-Lafayette and bombed the poor Cajuns for 52 points and a blowout win. A week later, now ranked #5, Texas traveled to Palo Alto to play a Stanford team they had defeated 69-17 just a year before.
No problem, right? Problem. The Longhorns got beat by the Cardinal 27-24. I'll spare you a recap of the game, because our very own 54b was blogging back then, and you can relive the horror of that game by clicking here.
It was a disastrous start to the year, the beginning of the needless quarterback controversy, and the official start to the Mack Brown questioning in Austin. Make no mistake about it. When Texas lost three weeks later to Oklahoma by a score of 63-14, the rout was on. FireMackBrown.panic sites got their legs and Mack would never enjoy a moment of peace until January of 2006.
Griffin scored 6 touchdowns in 2000. This is not a typo. I'm crying again, too.
The Horns clawed their way back to a #12 ranking by the end of the 2000 season, but none of the victories, except over #22 Texas A&M, were over ranked opponents. The stage was set for a wildly entertaining and - for Texas fans - disappointing Holiday Bowl.
The 2000 Holiday Bowl: Oregon 35 Texas 30
I had the misfortune of attending this game. To clarify that: I had the misfortune of attending this game and sitting right on the divide between Oregon and Texas fans. Worst of all, the Oregon clown I was sitting next to took his First Amendment rights to the extreme, bringing a freaking duck kazoo to the damn game... And quack, quack, quacking it on every play that didn't result in a Texas touchdown.
Let's face it: you want to win the Holiday Bowl, but it's not life or death. Not usually, anyway. By the end of this game, the Duck fans had driven me so crazy that I would have done anything - anything - to win it.
As you know, we lost. In a crazy shootout of a game, Joey Harrington and Oregon got the best of Texas, not least because our freshmen receivers kept dropping touchdown passes. The real problem, though, as had been the case for much of the year, was on defense. We don't really remember these guys because they were only so-so, but the linebacking crew of the 2000 team was pretty mediocre. They were adequate against the run and pretty bad in pass coverage. Whatever advantages Texas held on the defensive line were often negated by the so-so play from Lewis, Rawls and Jones.
Texas actually took a 21-14 lead in this game, but fell apart in the 3rd quarter, the lowlight coming when Hodges Mitchell sprained his knee and didn't return. Interestingly, the 2000 Holiday Bowl was almost a preview of the 2001 national title game, when both Texas and Oregon were right up there for spots until the final weekend of the season.
And yes, we'll painfully walk through that 2001 season tomorrow. I'm sighing already.
Mack Brown versus Oklahoma: 2-1
Mack Brown in Bowl Games: 1-2
Next up: The 2001 season and the 2001
Orange Holiday Bowl: oh so close.