Could you imagine what the Texas Longhorns could have been with Adrian Peterson —2004’s No. 1 prospect — accepting handoffs from Vince Young for two seasons and then from Colt McCoy in 2006?
Sure, even with Peterson heading across the Red River to play for the Oklahoma Sooners, the ‘Horns did pretty well, winning 34 of 38 games and adding three bowl victories, including the historic 2006 Rose Bowl National Championship over then-dynasty USC.
But still, could you imagine what if?
For all the praise former head coach Mack Brown deserves for his lengthy list of accomplishments at Texas, his recruitment of Peterson and inability to capitalize on a kid craving to play on the 40 Acres cost him a generational tail back, as seen his his recent comments via Sports Illustrated’s Campus Rush:
My uncle, he played at the University of Texas in '97, '98, four years he played there, played with Ricky Williams and all those guys. I used to go up to the spring games and stuff when I was coming up. I was such a big Texas fan. Everything was UT. I remember standing up top of [the ramp], where the players come out, waiting for my uncle to come out, looking out at the stadium, at the scoreboard and telling myself then, "I'll be back here to play at the University of Texas." I remember speaking those words.
Once I got to my junior year, and I became the No. 1 player in the nation my junior and senior year, my first official offer was from University of Oklahoma. Texas A&M was my second offer and then Texas came in and offered me. I'm still a little salty, but I'm UT all the way in my mind.
I remember going up and talking to Mack Brown and I asked him the same thing I asked all the other coaches I met with: "Hey coach, I grew up here in Texas, grew up watching the Longhorns, my uncle played here. I remember sitting out here and telling myself that hey, one day I'll come here and play and now I have that opportunity. I just want to ask you one thing: If I come here, will I have the opportunity to compete for the starting running back position?" Mack Brown told me, "Well, Adrian, here's the thing: Cedric Benson, he's coming back for his senior year. So we're going to be loyal to him and let him finish out because he's coming back. Once he's gone, then, yeah, we'll open the doors and let you compete for it." I said, "O.K.," and I remember leaving that meeting and I remember X-ing Texas out, which I never thought I'd do.
I often think, he could have lied to me and I would have gone to Texas! I'm sure he thinks about it. He thought about—I'm sure he did—especially after the first game, when I went for 225 [yards] on them.
Brown couldn’t have simply told Peterson, “Yeah, you’ll have an opportunity to ‘compete’ for the starting job and can be a part of an unstoppable 1-2 punch with senior Cedric Benson.”
But he didn’t, and consequently, Brown missed out on a back that torched him during Texas’ annual meeting with Oklahoma.
Looking back, it’s easy to say the ‘Horns did just fine without him, which is true. But it’s hard not to think of what Colt McCoy’s 2006 Texas team, which finished 10-3 after an Alamo Bow victory, could have been with Peterson in the backfield?
Back-to-back losses to conclude the season against Kansas State and Texas A&M by a combined eight points to derail what was likely a repeat trip to the BCS championship game seems improbable.
Instead, Peterson went on to rush for over 4,000 yards as a Sooner, along with 42 touchdowns. He hoped to win a championship in Norman, which largely didn’t happen because of two losses to Texas and a powerhouse in USC, which he could have beaten if he were a Longhorn only a season later.