- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2001

DALLAS Rarely has so much talk been generated by someone who has accomplished so little.

Texas junior quarterback Chris Simms never asked for the hype.

"Even back in little league baseball and Pop Warner football, people would stare at me and whisper things like, 'There's little Simms, Phil's kid. I'll bet he's pretty good,'" the son of Super Bowl XXI MVP Phil Simms recalled at Texas media day in August. "I got used to the expectations very early. I tried to ignore them, but I always thought it was kind of silly. People always seemed to think I was one or two steps ahead of where I really was."

When Simms was a senior at Ramapo High School in New Jersey, he was ranked the No.1 prep prospect in the nation even though a handful of other blue-chippers had more impressive statistics.

When he arrived at Texas just over two years ago, Simms was seen as the program's savior, even though then-sophomore Major Applewhite already had exhibited the talents that would make him the 1999 Big 12 offensive player of the year and the holder of 40 Texas passing records.

When Texas coach Mack Brown scrapped his two-quarterback rotation before spring practice, brushing aside Applewhite and announcing that Simms would be his starter, the Sporting News tabbed Simms the Heisman Trophy favorite, even though he threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns last season (eight).

When it comes to Simms, people have always been too overwhelmed by the potential to consider the reality. The resume shows a 6-foot-5, 225-pound quarterback with quick feet, a Vick-like left arm and a perfect pedigree. The reality is that Simms has never led the Longhorns to a victory over a top 20 team.

Today, when No.5 Texas (4-0) faces No.3 Oklahoma (4-0) in the latest installment of the Red River Shootout, Simms finally has the chance to turn tools and expectations into touchdowns and achievements.

"This is the biggest game of my career," Simms said earlier this week. "They're coming off a national championship. We're trying to win one. There's more fuel to the fire this year, and it's up to me to lead this team."

The Longhorns didn't get much help in the leadership department against the Sooners last year. Simms watched from the sideline while Applewhite and Co. fell behind 28-0 in the second quarter. Brown inserted him into the game at that point hoping for a spark, but Simms threw his third pass to Oklahoma's Rocky Calmus, who returned the interception 41 yards to put the Sooners ahead 35-0.

"[Calmus] schooled me he just sat on the route, read my eyes and that was that," said Simms, who finished the game 11 of 23 for 66 yards in the 63-14 loss. "When it got to be 42-0, I really think some of our guys went into shock, me included."

Things have changed dramatically for Texas since the drubbing. Simms took over for Applewhite for the last six games of the season, leading the Longhorns to five victories and what would have been an upset over No.8 Oregon in the Holiday Bowl if freshman receivers Roy Williams and B.J. Johnson had not ended the game by dropping consecutive passes in the end zone.

This season, Williams and Johnson are living up to their billing as the nation's most dangerous receiving tandem. And Simms has improved in each outing, completing 21 of 26 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown last week in a 42-7 blasting of Texas Tech.

"I think he's 10 times the player he was last year," said Oklahoma co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops on Monday. "I see his ability to check and read defenses and get into the right plays. Last year you could confuse him with different looks. This year, from what I see on tape, he's very on top of things."

Though any compliment delivered from an opposing coach during game week is likely a hollow one, Simms' numbers support Stoops' assertion. Through four games, Simms has completed 58.1 percent of his passes (75 of 129) for 884 yards and six touchdowns against only two interceptions.

And for the first time in his career, the kid who always eschewed the spotlight says he can't wait to get on stage against the Sooners.

"Everybody on this team has had to live with last year's embarrassment for a year," Simms said. "We've heard we aren't tough enough. We've heard we don't have enough heart. We can't wait to put an end to all that talk."

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