On paper, University of Texas quarterback Vince Young seemed like a strong candidate for the Heisman Trophy, college football’s ultimate prize.

The Longhorns quarterback led the nation with a pass efficiency rating of 168.6, throwing for 2,769 yards and 26 touchdowns, running for a team-high 850 yards and scoring nine TDs rushing, and led a Texas offense that scored 50 or more points seven times.

However, when the Heisman votes were tallied, it wasn’t Young’s day. Instead, he watched as Trojan tailback Reggie Bush, who garnered 59 of 65 sports writers’ votes, took home the Heisman.

Young did not accept defeat gracefully, and he appeared to have no problem expressing his disappointment to the media.

“I’m just disappointed for my fans, especially my teammates and family. I’m just emotionally upset about that,” Young said to reporters shortly after the voting three weeks ago in New York.

“This will give me a little more edge … a little motivation to show how good our team is. All I know is the University of Texas will be there Jan. 4 ready to play. Right now, I feel like I let my guys down, my family down and the city of Austin down.”

Young will get his chance to prove those 59 sportswriters wrong when the two teams battle at 5 p.m. Wednesday for the National Championship in the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl Game.

But not only would a win be sweet payback for Young, it would finally get the monkey of never winning a national title off Longhorns’ coach Mack Brown’s back.

On the other side of the field, however, there’s USC, perhaps one of the best college teams to take the field, and a Rose Bowl victory would mark three straight national championships, and put Coach Pete Carroll among the greatest college football coaches of all time.

Mr. February

Sportswriters have nicknamed Brown “Mr. February,” due mainly to his legendary recruiting abilities after the regular season ends.

Like Carroll, Brown was a three-sport athlete as a boy. Born in Cookeville, Tenn., the Florida State graduate has been coaching football for more than 30 years, taking losing programs in Texas and North Carolina and turning them into winners.

At North Carolina, he brought the Tar Heels from a one-win season to a 10-1 record in one year. At Texas, he’s turned a team that suffered through five losing seasons into a contender for a national championship, with his team winning 18-straight games, and scoring 50 points in at least seven games.

The 54-year old father of four — son Matt and daughters Katherine, Barbara and Chris — is quick to toss up the Longhorns symbol on a touchdown play, and, according to most reports, he is shying away from the traditional media-driven answers that coaches give to reporters. In fact, Brown is letting everyone who will listen know that his team is not only unafraid, but not to be intimidated.

“USC is the most dominating college football program of modern times,” Brown said in a statement prepared by the university. “Our team will not be intimidated by the Rose Bowl. We just left. We won [Texas defeated Michigan last year by a score of 38-37]. We’re going back. We’re staying in the same hotel. We’re practicing on the same field. We know how long it takes to get to the stadium. We know (USC) has got a big white horse and we’ve got a big longhorn.”

They’ve also had big troubles recently. On Dec. 16, police confirmed they were investigating two crimes, an assault and a theft, involving University of Texas starting cornerback Cedric Griffin and starting tailback Ramonce Taylor, respectively.

Shortly after that it was learned that sophomore wide receiver Myron Hardy was arrested in November for carrying a switchblade.

No warrants were issued and the university is confident the issues will not warrant suspensions. Brown said Tuesday that any discipline would be handled within the team.

He also said the athletes had been disciplined internally and that the team was moving on in preparing for the game.
“Mack Brown is relentlessly upbeat, positive and encouraging to athletes, fellow coaches and fans,” said Elliott Warnock, a reporter for the Chapel Hill News in North Carolina. “He’s like one of the old-fashioned, round-bottomed punching toys: If you can knock him over, he just bounces back upright. He has several great qualities and characteristics of a winning football coach, but his eternal optimism is the most outstanding.”

The other Brown Act

Brown’s claim of USC’s dominance is not idle talk. In the final USA Today Coaches Poll, Brown voted USC the No. 1 team in the nation, according to reporters.The Trojan’s have been Associated Press’ No. 1-ranked team for a record 33 consecutive polls. During their streak, USC has won 34-consecutive PAC-10 games, 16 conference games, 16 games against AP Top 25 teams, and has never lost a bowl game when ranked No. 1.

At a recent practice, Bush moved the ball effortlessly up and down the field. Bush is the third Trojan in four years to add a Heisman Trophy to USC’s legacy, averaging nearly 10 yards a carry. On 187 rushes, Bush picked up 1,658 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. He also had 31 receptions for 383 yards, two touchdown receptions and one more via special teams.

Quiet man

As always, Carroll, a 53-year-old father of three from San Francisco and a former standout high school quarterback, is not just blowing the whistle. Instead, he’s taking snaps and throwing passes to his receivers and tailbacks.

“I’m not ready for you yet,” Carroll tells a reporter after practice. The graying coach spends the next 20 minutes signing autographs for children and taking the time to talk to each of them while his players talk to the media and head off to the weight room. In a town where anyone can become a celebrity, Carroll has managed to remain humble.

Born in San Francisco on Sept. 15, 1951, Carroll was a three-sport athlete at Redwood High School in Northern California. He earned the Athlete of the Year award in his senior year, playing quarterback. In college, he played free safety at University of Pacific, where he was named an All-Pacific Coast Conference player in 1971 and 1972.

Carroll entered coaching as a graduate assistant at UOP in 1974 and for three years worked with the wide receivers and the defensive secondary squad. After leaving there, he worked in some of the greatest college programs in the country, including Arkansas and Iowa State.

Carroll and his wife, Glena, who played volleyball at Pacific, have three children: Brennan, 22, who played tight end at Pittsburgh and Delaware and is now an assistant at USC; Jaime, 19, a junior at USC who played on the women’s volleyball team; and Nathan, 14.

Carroll entered the NFL in 1984 and coached defensive backs for the Buffalo Bills. He became head coach of the New England Patriots 13 years later and stayed for three seasons, guiding the Patriots into the playoffs in his first two seasons, winning the AFC Eastern Division title and advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

In 2000, he left the pros and headed back to college after he signed a five-year contract with USC.

“This is who Pete Carroll really is,” said his longtime friend Cindy Spiro. “His basic value is about family. I think that comes from his roots and his family upbringing. Sometimes he talked about his journey as a coach. He’s had to move 11 times, and it’s impacted his family. His wife is so strongly supportive of him. He goes to their activities to support them as much as he can.”

But he’s also fiercely competitive, so much so that at practice he runs down the field with the defensive unit of the special teams. When one player breaks to the sidelines, Carroll has no problem chasing him down.
“Our preparation is good,” Carroll said. “When we’re done with it, we should be ready for Texas.”

But they are also getting ready to chase even bigger records. If the Trojans win, they will become the first team to take three consecutive national championships, and will be just 12 games shy of Oklahoma’s 46-game winning streak. Ironically, before their last loss on Sept. 27, 2003, the Trojans had won 11 straight. If they had won that game, they would be playing to tie the record in the Rose Bowl.

“I’d say what’s more important to Pete is the quality of the experience,” said Spiro. “It’s a drive to compete. Every little thing he turns into a competition because it’s fun to him. That’s why he is on the field with his players. He loves to see the fire and excel and conquer a challenge. It’s an innate character trait of Pete’s. He’s always been that way. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing chess, board games or soccer. He just does it because he enjoys it. It’s all about making the most of everyday.” 

Jake Belcher contributed to this story.