GLENDALE, Ariz. Texas can win football games, but just can't prevail in debates.
The No. 3 Longhorns hoped to make their final case for a share of college football's national championship Monday night in the Fiesta Bowl. Yet, even though they won 24-21 over Ohio State they lost the chance to convince writers to vote them the Associated Press' version of the national title.
A three-point win over the 10th-ranked Buckeye isn't enough. Not when undefeated Utah captivated the nation with a stunning 31-17 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. And not when Ohio State is representing the beleaguered Big Ten, which went 1-6 in bowl games. And not when the Longhorns needed a late drive and a good fourth-down spot to pull out a victory.
Quarterback Colt McCoy, perhaps the 2009 Heisman Trophy favorite, capped a thrilling last-gasp 78-yard march with a winning 26-yard touchdown pass to Quan Cosby with just 16 seconds remaining that allowed Texas to stave off the upset.
"That was a Heisman-type drive," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said.
But Texas (12-1) needed more.
The Longhorns were playing here at University of Phoenix Stadium rather than in Miami in the BCS Championship Game because last month they lost their debate to be ranked ahead of Oklahoma in the BCS standings.
Their only chance for any kind of a national title would be to annihilate the Buckeyes, not nip them.
Ohio State (10-3) lost by 32 points to USC earlier this season and also fell to Penn State, which was dominated by the Trojans in the Rose Bowl. Those losses, as well as blowout losses in the last two national championship games, have tarnished Ohio State's national reputation.
Texas had a chance to win by a wide margin, but McCoy threw an interception in the red zone just before halftime. And when the Longhorns were threatening to extend a 17-9 lead early in the fourth quarter, McCoy fumbled for an 8-yard loss and Texas eventually punted from the Ohio State 42.
Fabulous freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor then led Ohio State to consecutive touchdowns to take the lead with two minutes remaining and force Texas to mount a final rally.
"When you've got guys like Colt and Quan and our offensive line you're obviously one of the best teams in the country, if not the best," Texas coach Mack Brown proclaimed in the postgame ceremony.
TEXAS 24, OHIO STATE 21
Texas quarterback Colt McCoy connected with Quan Cosby for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds remaining to give Texas a 24-21 Fiesta Bowl victory. Ohio State got two touchdowns and a field goal in the fourth quarter to rally from a 17-6 deficit to take a 21-17 lead with 2:05 remaining. But McCoy completed seven passes on a 78-yard drive to the winning touchdown.
STAR OFFENSIVE PLAYER
McCoy showed why he was a Heisman Trophy candidate. He completed 41 of 59 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. He also ran for a touchdown.
STAR DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Although Texas defensive tackle Roy Miller was named the game's most valuable defensive player he had only three tackles. The greatest contribution arguably came from linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy, who had six tackles and delivered a hit that knocked Ohio State running back Chris Wells out of the game in the third quarter. Wells had rushed for 106 yards before being injured.
With the outcome in doubt until the final seconds, the turning point was obviously when McCoy hit Cosby with a pass at about the Ohio State 15-yard line. Cosby spun off an attempted tackle and raced into the end zone for the touchdown. Cosby finished with 14 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns.
Wells suffered a concussion in the third quarter. He did not return to the game. Ohio State cornerback Shaun Lane appeared to hurt his neck while making a tackle on a kickoff return. He was immobilized, removed from the field on a cart and taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure. He did have movement in his extremities.
McCoy accounted for the 100th touchdown of his career on a 14-yard run off a quarterback draw midway through the third quarter. Cosby's 14 catches set a Texas bowl record. The previous record of 11 catches was set by Roy Williams in the 2001 Holiday Bowl. Cosby's totals were one short of the Fiesta Bowl record set by Utah's Paris Warren against Pittsburgh in 2005. McCoy's 41 completions and 59 attempts set Fiesta Bowl records. Ohio State kicker Aaron Pettrey hit a 51-yard field goal, which tied for the second-longest conversion in Fiesta Bowl history. UCLA's John Lee also kicked a 51-yarder against Miami in 1985. Arizona State's Luis Zendejas holds the record with a 54-yarder against Oklahoma in 1983. A sellout crowd of 72,047 was in attendance. It marked the 24th time in the past 25 years the Fiesta Bowl was sold out.
Maybe they are. But voting for Texas would be like voting for Nader.
The winner of Thursday night's BCS Championship Game between Florida and Oklahoma will be ranked No. 1 in the coaches' poll. Texas might be able to climb to No. 2, but after the way USC and Utah closed their seasons the Horns can't even count on that.
But McCoy predictably was defiant.
"I don't think there is anybody in the country that can beat us at this point," he said.
Few will probably agree. No doubt, Texas will have to take solace in the fact that it will surely open the 2009 season ranked in the top five, maybe as high as No. 1.
Though NFL scouts have projected him as a late first-round or early second-round draft choice, McCoy has announced his intentions to return for his senior season.
Senior receiver Jordan Shipley, who had 10 catches for 78 yards against Ohio State, has been granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA because his first two seasons were injury-plagued.
Four starters will return to the Longhorns' offensive line. The defensive line will have to be rebuilt, but two starting linebackers and three starting defensive backs will return for a second year under defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
Texas will lose some outstanding players such as Cosby, defensive end Brian Orakpo and defensive tackle Roy Miller, but it doesn't figure to lose as much as most of its Big 12 rivals.
But Texas doesn't want to have to wait another year for a shot at a national title. The Longhorns have the same record as the teams in the BCS Championship Game and defeated Oklahoma by 10 points on a neutral field.
Watching the Sooners in the national championship game has to hurt.
Still, the Longhorns surely aren't hurting as badly as Ohio State, which now must endure another year of taunts and jabs after a third consecutive BCS bowl loss to an opponent south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
After blowout losses to Florida and LSU in the last two BCS championship games the Buckeyes have been constantly and perhaps unfairly labeled as a slow, overrated team. Even a close loss added fuel to that fire.
"This is something that we have been talking about for a month for our seniors and for our team and our coaches and our community. This was really big for us," Buckeyes senior receiver Brian Robiskie said. "Obviously, this class did a lot of things that nobody else did beating Michigan and going to four, five straight BCS games. This class did a lot of great things. Obviously, we didn't get it done tonight. We didn't achieve kind of what we had set out to, but looking back we did some good things."
Ohio State did some great things against Texas. Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel rotated in senior quarterback Todd Boeckman in place of Pryor to take advantage of Boeckman's superior passing.
Boeckman completed five passes for 110 yards, including a fourth-quarter touchdown in the corner of the end zone to the 6-foot-6 Pryor who lined up at wide receiver. The two-point conversion failed, but the Buckeyes closed the gap to 17-15.
Boeckman also completed passes of 21 and 22 yards on the next drive, which led to a 15-yard touchdown run by Dan Herron for a 21-17 lead with 2:05 remaining.
But just when they were on the verge of vindication, McCoy took over. He completed seven passes for 76 yards on the winning drive.
"I can't think of a better place to be at that point," McCoy said. "I want to be in the last drive going for a championship.
"It just all worked out. When you have a guy like Quan and a guy like Shipley, guys you can throw the ball to, and an offensive line that can protect, things will work out for you."
Well, in games they do.
In championship debates they're still not enough.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.