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December 1, 2005

Texas has one last hurdle to clear

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AUSTIN, Texas - The No. 2 Texas Longhorns can smell the Rose Bowl.

They can feel a Big 12 title and a chance to play for the national championship. They've been waiting for their return trip to California ever since their victorious walk off the Rose Bowl field 11 months ago.

"We're one game away," senior safety Michael Huff said.

One victory away from glitzy Los Angeles, strolls on the star-studded Hollywood Walk of Fame and the feel of the cool breeze of the Pacific Ocean. Yet Colorado could spoil it all. The Buffaloes have done it before.

Saturday's Big 12 championship game in Houston features one team believing its destiny is to play for the national championship against another trying to bust up the party and create Bowl Championship Series chaos.

Flashback to 2001: Texas was one win away from the league title and the national championship game when Colorado stunned the Longhorns 39-37. The Horns, who beat the Buffs 41-7 earlier in the season, tumbled all the way out of the BCS while Nebraska snuck into the BCS title game.

Colorado would love to ruin Texas' season again.

"If they are going to beat us," Buffs senior linebacker Brian Iwuh said, "they are going to have to earn everything."

Just like 2001, the Longhorns (11-0, 8-0) already beat Colorado (7-4, 5-3) in the regular season. Vince Young passed for two touchdowns and ran for three more, and Texas led 35-3 in the second quarter of a 42-17 victory. Young had a career day passing, hitting 25-of-29 for 336 yards.

"That's hard to do against air," Colorado coach Gary Barnett said. "It's hard to believe he would do that again."

Young has made believers out of those who used to say he couldn't throw.

He's had a dazzling season, passing for 2,576 yards, rushing for a team-high 793 yards and accounting for a school-record 31 touchdowns.

Young's only bad game came a week ago in a 40-29 win over Texas A&M. His two-turnover performance solidified Reggie Bush of USC as the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. A big game Saturday could make up some lost ground.

"I wasn't thinking about the Heisman and different things like that," Young said. "As a leader of this team, I didn't think we were playing how we were supposed to be playing."

It was Young who started Texas on its Big 12 and national titles mission last summer by ordering his teammates to attend players-only workouts. He said he'll remind them again of how far they've come.

"I'm just going to get in their face (again) and tell them what's at stake," Young said. "We're so close we can smell it right now. We want to just go out there and dominate the game like we've been doing."

Texas leads the nation in scoring with 49 points a game. The Longhorns are a four-touchdown favorite on Saturday, the biggest spread in a conference title game since the concept first came to pass in the early 1990s.

While the Longhorns are praised as national title contenders, the Buffaloes backed in to the Big 12 title game.

Colorado lost its last two games 30-16 and 30-3 won the North Division only because Iowa State couldn't kick a field goal in overtime against Kansas.

Even Colorado fans don't expect much from the Buffs on Saturday. The school returned 5,000 of its 8,500 game tickets, assuring the Reliant Stadium crowd will be almost entirely burnt orange.

For Texas coach Mack Brown, a victory would give him a shiny new trophy to fill a gaping hole in his resume: Brown has never won a conference championship.

From Appalachian State to Tulane to North Carolina and Texas, Brown has recruited well, won a ton of games and been shut out of championships.

His Texas teams have won 10 games each of the last five seasons and his 54 wins tie him with Oklahoma's Bob Stoops for the most during that span.

Brown never came as close as he did in 2001. Quarterback Chris Simms committed four first-half turnovers and Brown waited too long to replace him with Major Applewhite, who nearly rallied Texas to a victory.

Brown also lost the '99 title game to Nebraska, a team the Longhorns also beat earlier in the season. Memories of that game are another reminder the Longhorns can take nothing for granted.

"We've got some history here," Brown said. "Just because you beat them once sure doesn't mean you can beat them twice."

For more coverage of the Texas Longhorns, check out Orangebloods.com.

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