Texas tumbles from BCS as Rose Bowl hopes die with loss

Monday, December 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ A week ago, Texas was giddy in its good fortune.

Now, the Longhorns are wondering how they squandered it all.

After backing its way into the Big 12 title game, Texas had a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. Tennessee's 34-32 win over Florida on Saturday set the table for the Longhorns to play for the school's first national title in more than 30 years.

All Texas had to do was win the Big 12 title game against Colorado, a team the Longhorns whipped 41-7 back in October.

Nothing doing. As they did to Nebraska a week earlier, the Buffs used a punishing ground game and exploited a dismal outing by Texas quarterback Chris Simms to win 39-37.

The loss sent the shocked Longhorns (10-2) tumbling out of the Bowl Championship Series and most likely to the Holiday Bowl where they lost to Oregon last season.

Texas, ranked third entering Saturday's game, tumbled seven spots to No. 10 in the AP media poll released Sunday, while Colorado shot up five spots to No. 5.

The Holiday and Rose bowls are both in California, but they couldn't be more distant in terms of importance.

``You start looking at what we had, we don't have it anymore,'' said Texas coach Mack Brown, who lost a chance to win his first conference championship in 18 years as a head coach.

Colorado (10-2) turned Simms' four first-half turnovers into 26 points. Simms threw three interceptions _ one was returned for a touchdown _ and fumbled on a sack to set up another Buffs score. Chris Brown ran for 182 yards and three TDs for the Buffaloes.

``We wanted to hit him (Simms), hit him and hit him again. Even if it was late, we wanted to hit him,'' said Colorado strong safety Michael Lewis.

``I was stunned with what happened to me individually,'' a teary-eyed Simms said afterward. ``We have a great team and we had a chance to go to the Rose Bowl. I don't know what happened.''

Texas eventually replaced Simms with Major Applewhite and the senior nearly rallied Texas to the win. But ultimately it was too little, too late.

Texas got into the Big 12 title game because Oklahoma lost to Oklahoma State on Nov. 24. The new life in the conference title game would ultimately work against the Longhorns.

Texas was well situated in the BCS before the Oklahoma loss and was practically assured a BCS bowl, most likely the Sugar.

But playing the Big 12 title game put all that at risk. Texas had a shot at the national title with a victory, but the loss dropped the two-loss Longhorns right out of the BCS.

The victory gave Colorado it's first Big 12 title and the conference's automatic BCS berth.

``When we left the hotel today, I told them we are a team of destiny,'' said Colorado coach Gary Barnett. ``No one is playing with more heart right now. Whoever we play next, they're going to face one heck of a football team.''

Barnett took some risky moves to get his team to this point.

Last summer, he took a couple of players from last season's 3-8 team to Texas Stadium to see where they would play for the conference title. It was a move of bravado that would have left him open to ridicule without a championship.

Saturday night it was a fake punt that Texas intercepted and returned for a fourth-quarter touchdown to pull within 36-30. The Buffs got their coach out of trouble by driving for a field goal that all but sealed the win.

``I'm thankful to Jeremy Flores for kicking that field goal to save my butt,'' Barnett joked.

Simms' pratfall will be most disappointing for Brown. The decision to start Simms over Applewhite, the school's career passing leader, has been the most controversial aspect of Brown's four-year tenure.

Simms answered most of his critics with a school record 22 touchdown passes and Texas' first 10-win season since 1995.

But Simms' biggest mistakes keep happening in Texas' biggest games.

Saturday night's game looked a lot like the four turnovers in last season's Holiday bowl loss and the four interceptions in a mid-season defeat to Oklahoma.

Although Brown said he was ``evaluating'' the turnovers in the second quarter, he didn't pull Simms until the quarterback dislocated a finger on his throwing hand one play after his last interception.

By that time, the decidedly pro-Texas crowd was booing Simms lustily and chanting ``May-jor, May-jor.''

Applewhite responded by throwing a 79-yard touchdown to B.J. Johnson on his second play that cut the Colorado lead to 29-17. His TD pass to Johnson with 31 seconds left made it 39-37.

It is sure to spark more questions about who should start Texas' bowl game.

Brown said he'll reserve judgment until he can watch the game film.

``A lot of people will blame Chris. There may have been a busted route,'' Brown said. ``He (Simms) has played great for us all year.

``I've seen some great players have bad days. I've had them myself as a coach.''