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Longing for a rosy result

FootballTexas LonghornsRose Bowl GameSoutheastern ConferenceBowl Championship SeriesAtlantic Coast Conference

Texas may or may not end up in the Pacific-12 Conference. Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott tried to lure the Longhorns last year before his dream for a 16-team super league was squashed — or maybe deferred.

Texas once held a big stack of expansion chips, but was last seen in Norman begging Oklahoma not to go west. (Which is probably not going to work.)

Can Texas hold the fractious Big 12 together? Will the Longhorns go independent?

Texas to the Atlantic Coast Conference is this minute's rumor. Weirdly, though, Texas already seems like Pac family.

Saturday marks coach Mack Brown's fifth Texas trip to the Rose Bowl.

His first Longhorn loss was a 1998 drubbing by UCLA in Pasadena. It came a year after UCLA smoked them in Austin. That 66-3 defeat, under predecessor John Mackovic, led to Brown's hiring from North Carolina.

So here we are, in a new century, with Brown leading another caravan west.

The rematch takes place a year after UCLA ran over the Longhorns in Austin.

Texas was coming off a 4-7 year in 1998. It's coming off a 5-7 year now.

"It has been a full circle," Brown said this week in a telephone interview from Austin.

Much of Texas' modern football story is told in the Pacific time zone. Texas' Jan. 1, 2005, Rose Bowl victory against Michigan ranks as one of its most dramatic and forged the collegiate legacy of Vince Young.

The Longhorns since have won, and lost, a national title in Pasadena.

In 2004, Texas contentiously denied California's first Rose Bowl trip since 1959.

So which school, Texas or Cal, had more Pac-10 sway?

It's almost comical. The Pac-12 also is tied to the Holiday Bowl. Mack Brown has taken Texas to four of those — 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2007.

Since 1997, Texas has played eight current Pac-12 schools.

Texas has played on three grand Rose Bowl game stages since UCLA, which calls the Rose Bowl home, played its last.

Before Texas played Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl, Brown called former Southern California coach John Robinson and asked him what to expect.

"He told me, 'Think how lucky you are,'" Brown said. "He said, 'Enjoy the moment, look at the rolling hills.'"

A year later, on the same field, Brown was lucky to be part of one of college football's greatest games, Texas' 41-38 national title victory over USC.

"So many plays in that game, so many great moments," he said.

Two seasons ago, though, Texas returned to the Rose Bowl to face Alabama for the Bowl Championship Series title.

Texas had Alabama on its heels early until quarterback Colt McCoy was knocked out with an arm injury.

"I thought it set up perfectly for us, just like the SC game," Brown said. "We were told we had no chance to win. We were in a perfect spot. The SEC had become a running league and we were throwing the ball so well. We did not think people could cover us."

Texas couldn't overcome McCoy's loss and hasn't been the same since.

"I did not foresee the hangover from that game," Brown said.

For eight years, starting with Young, Texas' best running back was its quarterback.

Texas tried to retrofit the offense around the less mobile Garrett Gilbert, but the plan failed. The Longhorns finished 5-7 last year, which prompted Brown to reconfigure his staff.

Saturday, Texas is at UCLA, at the Rose Bowl, in search of an identity.

Brown thinks his 2-0 team has momentum after eking out a one-point victory over Brigham Young. Brown is benching Gilbert in favor of Case McCoy, Colt's younger brother.

"We are changing who we are," Brown said. "… I think we're in mid-transition and we know who we want to be and are headed back there fast."

Brown is among the few who can look forward to the Rose Bowl at the same time he looks back.

"It's a different trip going back my fifth time than it was my first," he joked.

If Texas ends up in the Pac-12, what's the big deal? It will feel like putting on an old sweater.

But if the Longhorns don't, won't it almost seem like they're leaving?

cdufresne@tribune.com

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