Posted August 12th, 2017
The Texas football program dates back to 1893. Each day, we look at a little piece of Longhorn history. We’re starting by looking at each Longhorn football season.
This was an end of an era. In 1915, Texas joined the Southwestern Conference. At the time it was made of Baylor, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Rice, Southwestern and Oklahoma A&M (now known as Oklahoma State). The conference changed over and over throughout the years. Oklahoma, Southwestern and Oklahoma A&M were changed out for SMU and TCU. Texas Tech and Houston joined– the SWC had many forms.
The end of the Southwestern Conference probably began on June 27, 1984. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the NCAA vs. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma that the NCAA couldn’t punish its members for selling their media content. In other words, the NCAA couldn’t dictate TV deals. This meant that schools and conferences could negotiate TV deals on their own behalf.
The Big Ten and Pacific- 10 (now the Pac 12) sold their rights to ABC. The rest of the Division I schools formed an organization known as the College Football Association, which then sold their rights to ABC and CBS.
When the Southeastern Conference invited Arkansas and South Carolina to join the conference inthe early 1990s, it was a sign that the SEC was preparing to leave the CFA and negotiate their own deal. Because the SEC was a valuable conference, it leaving could, and it did, cripple the rest of the CFA to negotiate TV deals.
The SWC was in a tough spot. Without Arkansas, the league was missing one of its traditional powers. Because the NCAA had given SMU the death penalty in 1987,and the Mustangs had yet to recover, the league was extremely weak. Then throw in Texas’ own decline in early 1990s, and the league was on extremely shaky ground.
In February of 1994, the SEC announced it was leaving the CFA and this sent into motion changes would reshape college football. The Big East announced it to would following the SEC in 1995 out the door, leaving two major conferences, the SWC and the Big Eight wondering what to do.
Making matters more interesting: the SEC signed a $95 million TV deal after breaking away.
In March of 1994, Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech accepted invitations to join the Big Eight. Rice, SMU and TCU joined the Western Athletic Conference, while Houston joined a new conference, Conference USA.
The SWC football was dead. In the spring of 1996, with baseball and track and field seasons complete, the conference was officially finished.
The new conference, still known as the Bight Eight at the time, negotiated contracts with ABC and ESPN. In 1996, the Big Eight officially dissolved and the Big 12 was formed.
But in the meantime, the SWC had one last season to play, and Texas — by far the signature member throughout the history of the conference — would be in the running to win the final crown.
The Texas Longhorns hit the running back jackpot in 1995.
Not only was the future NCAA all-time rushing leader, Ricky Williams, joining the program as a freshman, but talented former Austin LBJ High School running back Shon Mitchell was transferring into the program following two seasons at Blinn College. Factor in that Priest Holmes was coming off one of the best bowl games for a running back in Texas history, and the Longhorns were loaded.
Holmes, however, hurt his knee and was unavailable for the 1995 season, but the Longhorns still had their second-best running back duo ever. In 1977, Earl Campbell teamed with Ham Jones to rush for 2,233 yards. In 1995, Mitchell and Williams combined for 2,089 yards, with Mitchell running for 1,099 yards and Williams 990. Jones, in 1977, only rushed for 489 yards. Texas has never had a pair of running backs rush for 1,000 yards each in a season.
Texas, opening the season ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press poll, traveled to Hawaii in Week 1, it was first time Texas ever played a game outside the continental United States. Texas won 38-17. In his first game as a Longhorn Williams rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns, one of which went for 65 yards.
He did it on 10 carries.
Mitchell rushed for 77 yards. He did it on eight carries.
Two weeks later, Texas hosted Pittsburgh and won 38-27. Mitchell rushed for 76 yards, Williams 67 and both had a touchdown. James Brown added 43 rushing yards and threw for another 306 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Adams, now a junior, caught five passes for 88 yards.
Texas rose to No. 13 in the polls. The offense may have never been more diverse, up till that point, in Longhorn history.
Defensively, Bryant Westbrook, Tony Brackens, Tyson King, Chris Carter, Kyle Richardson and Chris Akins were making plays. Carter would finish the season with six interceptions, tied with many players for third most in a season. Tre Thomas added three more picks.
Texas had momentum, but No. 21 Notre Dame was coming to town next.
The Longhorns hadn’t played Notre Dame since January 1978, when the Irish beat Campbell and Texas in the Cotton Bowl. The 1995 game wasn’t pretty for Texas. Notre Dame led 27-20 entering the fourth quarter, but then Texas may have had its worst quarter in decades.
Notre Dame scored four touchdowns as Marc Edwards scored touchdowns of 2 and 27 yards out. Ron Powlus connected with Edwards on another touchdown from 12 yards away. Brown counteracted with a 19-yard touchdown to Pat Fitzgerald, but it wasn’t enough.
Trailing 48-27 with 39 seconds left, Notre Dame’s Allen Rossum picked off Brown and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown, capping a 55-27 win for Notre Dame.
The loss knocked Texas to No. 21 in the polls, and Texas would throttle SMU and Rice in back-to-back weeks to move to No. 18 in the polls before facing No. 13 Oklahoma.
This would be the last time Texas would play Oklahoma as non-conference opponent (at least for the time being, but let’s stick to the past and not the future, President Boren).
It’s fitting that no one won this game. The squads tied 24-24 as Oklahoma overcame a 21-point first deficit to force the tie.
Texas recovered and won the next five games, raising to No. 9 in the polls, to enter its match up with No. 16 Texas A&M with the final SWC title on the line. Texas A&M, the home team, was 5-1 in conference play. Texas was 6-0.
Williams scored two touchdowns and rushed for 163 yards as Texas never trailed in the game against Texas A&M. It snapped a four-losing streak to the Aggies and was Texas’ first SWC title since 1990.
Texas was invited to the Sugar Bowl where they faced No. 13 Virginia Tech. Texas led 10-7 at halftime, but the Hokies scored 21 points in the second half to win the Sugar Bowl 28-10.
Texas finished 14th in the final AP poll. With Williams, Mitchell, Brown, Adams, Wane McGarity, Kwame Cavil, Phil Dawson and a healthy Priest Holmes all set to return on offense, and Brackens, Westbrook, Carter and more to return on defense, Texas had the makings of a top 10 team entering 1996, which would come in a new conference.
But with the end of the 1995 season, the Texas SWC era was finished.
So what was the most memorable Texas SWC moment? That can be debated, but the 1969 “Game of the Century” between Texas and Arkansas is hard to top.