Texas' Brown still looking for first title

Updated: August 12, 2003, 2:06 PM ET

AUSTIN, Texas -- The annual Texas title hunt begins again with a team loaded with talent, a new quarterback and a familiar question hanging over coach MackBrown: Can the Longhorns beat the Oklahoma Sooners?

Entering his 20th season as a head coach,Brown has yet to win a conference title, despite perennially getting close. The Longhorns were 11-2 the last two seasons. Just one more win likely would've given Texas its first Big 12 title since 1996 and a shot at the national championship.

This season, the Longhorns are pushing a theme of "Finish It." In other words, if they finish plays, finish games and finish the season undefeated, the championship drought will end.

"The last two years, we've lost two games in the fourth quarter,"Brown said. "Just finish the other two games and we'll have a chance to play for all of it."

Brown spent the offseason mixing and matching his coaching staff to get the most out of a stockpile of talented players. He fired offensive line coach Tim Nunez, hired a new running backs coach and shuffled other assignments.

He also ordered his players to get leaner, stronger and tougher.

The Longhorns return 17 starters, including offensive stars in senior receiver Roy Williams and junior running back Cedric Benson. The defense is anchored by junior linebacker DerrickJohnson and senior cornerback Nathan Vasher.

Williams' return was a mild surprise. Many thought the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder would turn pro after catching 64 passes for 1,142 yards and 12 touchdowns while playing much of last season with a strained hamstring.

"I think I'm not quite ready for the NFL," Williams said. "And right now, I just want to try to be the best player in college football."

Williams was unstoppable when healthy. Texas was predictable when he was hurt. Him staying injury-free in 2003 could make the difference between a national title or playing in the Cotton Bowl again.

The question is, who will throw him the ball? Texas' inexperience at quarterback was among the reason he was expected to leave.

Junior Chance Mock is the designated starter for the Aug. 31 season opener against New Mexico State.

A top-rated high school quarterback when he signed with the Longhorns in 2000, Mock watched the Major Applewhite-Chris Simms saga swirl while waiting for his chance to start. He's played 10 games, going 6-of-9 for 65 yards and a touchdown.

Yet now that it's his turn, he's having to fight off redshirt freshman Vince Young.

Like Simms, Young comes in shouldering great expectations. He was declared the national player of the year as a senior in high school by some publications, then spent last season learning the college game.

While some coaches would consider it a nice dilemma,Brown was burned by the criticism over how he handled Simms and Applewhite. He knows any misstep by Mock is likely to send Young's popularity zooming.

"I misjudged how many people coach quarterbacks in this state,"Brown said. "There are 20 million coaches."

Brown's goal is to get some playing time for Young without making Mock feel like he's getting benched.

"He (Mock) waited his turn. He knows the offense,"Brown said. "He's learned from Major and Chris. He's watched the media. He's watched the fans. He understands the pressure of this position at this school."

The Longhorns will have five games to get ready for the annual matchup with Oklahoma in Dallas on the second Saturday of October. The Sooners have won the last three.

Early season home games against Arkansas and Big 12 contender Kansas State will determine whether a win over the Sooners could catapult Texas into the national title race or leave them playing for second place again.

"It's hard to get out of our division,"Brown said, "much less our league."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index