Houston For the first time in his college career, Chris Simms won't have to worry about a quarterback controversy.
On the other hand, the senior quarterback from Texas won't have an experienced player to push him or back him up this fall because longtime rival and teammate Major Applewhite was a senior last season.
"It's going to be no different to me," Simms said Friday at Big 12 media day. "People try to say it's a big weight off my chest. Maybe in some ways, but in other ways Major was a great help to me as well. He was another set of eyes when I was coming off the field. He was a person I could trust for advice. He really helped me out."
That's ironic because it was Simms who pushed Applewhite out of the Longhorns' starting lineup.
Applewhite set UT freshman passing records in 1998 with 2,453 yards and 18 touchdowns. He followed that up by earning Big 12 offensive player of the year honors in 1999 when he established four Longhorn single-season records by completing 271 of 467 passes for 3,357 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Simms, meanwhile, played in six games that year as a true freshman. The 1998 USA Today national prep offensive player of the year lost his only start when Applewhite was ill against Texas A&M.
Simms cut into Applewhite's playing time more the next year, starting six games. Applewhite passed for 2,164 yards and 18 TDs, while Simms threw for 1,064 yards and eight TDs.
"He played without much experience his sophomore year," UT coach Mack Brown said of Simms, "and last year I thought he had a great year."
With UT a preseason Big 12 and national title contender, Brown benched the Longhorns' senior leader last fall in favor of his highly-touted junior.
Applewhite, UT's career leader with 8,353 yards and 60 TD passes, watched from the sidelines while Simms led UT to the Big 12 championship game.
The Dec. 1 game at Irving, Texas, was a nightmare for Simms. The junior threw three interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown and another that set up a score.
Colorado took a 29-10 lead in the second quarter when Medford Moorer returned Simms' pass 64 yards for a TD.
Applewhite relieved Simms and passed for 240 yards and two touchdowns. Colorado survived UT's rally, though, in a 39-37 victory.
"The week after the Big 12 championship game was a very tough time for me," said Simms, who is 15-4 as a starter. "That was mainly because we had the week off from practices. That was the hardest thing because if we did have practice I could go out and just worry about that and kind of take my mind off what had just happened. Once we started preparing for Washington, it gradually left my mind. Instead of beating myself up about it all the time, I try to use it as a motivational tool."
Applewhite started the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28 at San Diego, and ninth-ranked UT edged No. 21 Washington, 47-43, to cap an 11-2 season. The senior was named offensive MVP after rallying UT to its biggest comeback ever. The Longhorns overcame a 19-point deficit as Applewhite set three UT bowl records by completing 37 of 55 passes for 473 yards.
Simms never got in the game, which wasn't decided until the final minute.
The Franklin Lakes, N.J., native is eager to start the new season. This time, he'll be backed up by sophomore Chance Mock, who has thrown one pass in four career games.
"The great thing about this year is we can talk about our team," Simms said. "We feel like we have a great team. The focus of attention isn't on two guys."
The focus often will be on one guy Â Simms, who is being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
"For some reason, and I'm not sure why, Chris has been held to a different standard by a lot of people than the other quarterbacks in the country," Brown said.
To Simms, the reasons for high expectations are obvious.
"I know the situation I'm in," said Simms' whose father, Phil, played 15 seasons with the New York Giants and was MVP of Super Bowl XXI. "I know my last name is Simms. People are going to expect a little more out of me. At the same time, I understand it's part of the way I grew up and it's part of being quarterback at the University of Texas."