College football countdown: No. 6 Texas

Tuesday, August 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Can Horns move up to high-rent district?

AUSTIN – When Texas coach Mack Brown went into the homes of the star recruits he has lured to Austin, he promised them times like the next two years.

Brown jokes that Texas hasn't bought a house in the neighborhood with the likes of national champion Florida State, but he quickly adds that the Longhorns have a realtor and are now looking for property.

Depth is the key to a national title run, Brown has repeated – the kind of depth that allows Tennessee to win it all the year after a player like Peyton Manning graduates.

Texas is getting close. Thanks to Brown's effort to stockpile talent, the Longhorns have perhaps two of the best quarterbacks in the country (Major Applewhite and Chris Simms).

They have three running backs capable of challenging 1999 starter Hodges Mitchell of Skyline (Ivan Williams, Kenny Hayter and Victor Ike).

And on defense, there is finally real competition at cornerback, a position that has haunted the Longhorns for nearly five years.

As important as having talent for a national-title run is the schedule. For the next two years, Texas' required Big 12 diet doesn't include Nebraska or Kansas State.

Thanks to successful but embarrassing efforts to dump a road trip to Hawaii for its season opener, Texas has only one apparent nonconference hurdle, a game at Rose Bowl runner-up Stanford in Week 2.

The next major obstacle will be a two-game stretch that probably makes or breaks a run for the national title. Texas will face emotional rival and rapidly improving Oklahoma on Oct. 7 in the Cotton Bowl before traveling to Colorado on Oct. 14. UT has lost six straight to the Buffaloes.

When the Longhorns take the field against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 9, they will be trying to end a three-game losing streak that finished the 1999 season at 9-5.

The skid started at Texas A&M last November, included Nebraska's first victory over UT in four years and continued in the Cotton Bowl, where Arkansas won, 27-6. UT played in that game without team leaders WR Kwame Cavil and DE Aaron Humphrey, who were suspended.

Both Cavil and Humphrey are now trying to make it in the NFL, and the voids left by their departures are the key question marks on this year's team. Has UT recruited enough talent at receiver in B.J. Johnson of South Grand Prairie, Roy Williams of Odessa Permian and Sloan Thomas of Houston Klein to limit any dropoff?

And can sophomore defensive end Cory Redding and junior Jermain Anderson stop the run and get pressure on opposing quarterbacks?

If the answers are yes, and the Longhorns stay healthy, there may be a new national-title contender in the neighborhood.

Texas Schedule- Sept 9 La. Lafayette; Sept 16 at Stanford; Sept 23 Houston; Sept 30 Oklahoma State; Oct 7 Oklahoma (at Dallas); Oct 14 at Colorado; Oct 21 Missouri; Oct 28 Baylor; Nov 4 at Texas Tech; Nov 11 at Kansas; Nov 24 Texas A&M

Texas Longhorns Capsule

COACH: Mack Brown (18-8 in two seasons at Texas).

LAST YEAR: 9-5 (lost to Arkansas in the Southwestern Bell Cotton Bowl).

OUT: Hawaii as the season opener; last year's leading receivers, Kwame Cavil and Ryan Nunez, and deep threat Jeremy Jones. That's more than 2,000 yards receiving, nine touchdowns and 170 receptions that has to be replaced.

IN: Three of the most coveted high school receivers in the nation – B.J. Johnson (6-1, 190) of South Grand Prairie, Roy Williams (6-4, 205) of Odessa Permian and Sloan Thomas (6-2, 194) of Houston Klein.

BIG PLUS: What many see as a quarterback controversy, Mack Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis see as a quarterback luxury. Neither Major Applewhite nor Chris Simms is a pouter, which means they should push each other to get better.

BIG MINUS: There is a lack of depth on the defensive line. If DTs Casey Hampton or Shaun Rogers get injured, there is not much there for backup. DEs Cory Redding and Jermain Anderson have quickness, not size, and thus a lot to prove in stopping the run.

NATIONAL TITLE IF: Wide receivers emerge and Texas can remain unbeaten through difficult two-game stretch against Oklahoma and Colorado.

BOTTOM LINE: Schedules this year and next year are favorable. But without proven wide receivers, a huge portion of the offense is a question mark and may keep UT from reaching its peak.

Top 25 So Far

25. Clemson
24. Mississippi
23. So. Miss.
22. Utah
21. Texas A&M
20. Penn State
19. Tennessee
18. Colorado
17. Oklahoma
16. Purdue
15. Illinois
14. Kansas State
13. Florida
12. Ohio State
11. TCU
10. USC
9. Wisconsin
8. Michigan
7. Georgia
6. Texas