Young enrolled at the University of Texas, where he played for coach Mack Brown's Texas Longhorns football team from 2002 to 2005. He was part of a Texas recruiting class, which contained future NFL players Rodrique Wright, Justin Blalock, Brian Robison, Kasey Studdard, Lyle Sendlein, David Thomas, Selvin Young, and Aaron Ross. This class has been cited as one of the strongest college recruiting classes ever. Young redshirted his freshman year.
As a redshirt freshman during the 2003 season, Young was initially 2nd on the depth chart behind Chance Mock. However, Mock was benched halfway through the season (in the game against Oklahoma) in favor of Young. After that game, Young and Mock alternated playing time, with Young's running ability complementing Mock's drop-back passing.
As a redshirt sophomore in the 2004 season, Young started every game and led the Longhorns to an 11–1 season record (losing only to rival Oklahoma), a top 5 final ranking, and the school's first-ever appearance and victory in the Rose Bowl, in which they defeated the University of Michigan. He began to earn his reputation as a dual-threat quarterback by passing for 1,849 and rushing for 1,189 yards. The Texas coaches helped facilitate this performance by changing the team offensive scheme from the more traditional I-formation to a Shotgun formation with three wide receivers. This change gave the offense more options in terms of play selection, and consequently made it more difficult to defend against.
Before his junior season, Young appeared on the cover of Dave Campbell's Texas Football alongside Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal.
In his All-America 2005 season, Young led the Longhorns to an 11–0 regular season record. The Longhorns held a #2 ranking in the preseason, and held that ranking through the season except for one week when they were ranked #1 in the Bowl Championship Series. Texas then won the Big 12 championship game and still held their #2 BCS ranking, which earned them a berth in the National Championship Rose Bowl game against the USC Trojans. Before the game, the USC Trojans were being discussed on ESPN and other media outlets as possibly the greatest college football team of all time. Riding a 34-game winning streak, including the previous National Championship, USC featured two Heisman Trophy winners in the backfield – quarterback Matt Leinart (2004 Heisman winner) and running back Reggie Bush (2005 Heisman winner—since vacated).
In the 2006 Rose Bowl, Vince Young put on one of the most dominating individual performances in college football history, accounting for 467 yards of total offense (200 rushing, 267 passing) and three rushing touchdowns (including a 9 yard TD scramble on 4th down with 19 seconds left) to lead the Longhorns to a thrilling 41–38 victory. This performance led to him winning Rose Bowl MVP honors for the second consecutive season—becoming only the fourth player, in the history of the Rose Bowl, to be twice named MVP (and the only player from the Big 12 Conference). After the game, former USC and NFL safety Ronnie Lott said "Vince Young is the greatest quarterback to ever play college football." Trojans coach Pete Carroll said "that was the best I've seen by one guy." Young finished the season with 3,036 yards passing and 1,050 yards rushing earning him the Davey O'Brien Award.
Early in his collegiate career, Vince Young had been criticized as "great rusher...average passer", and his unconventional throwing motion had been criticized as being "side-arm" as opposed to the conventional "over the top" throwing motion typically used by college quarterbacks. However, by the 2005 season most of the criticism had faded, and he developed into a consistent and precise passer. Young concluded the 2005 regular season as the #1 rated passer in the nation. Including the Big 12 Championship game and the Rose Bowl, he finished as the #3 rated passer in the nation, with a quarterback rating of 163.9.
Young reached a win/loss record as a starter of 30–2, ranking him #1 of all UT quarterbacks by number of wins, although his successor, Colt McCoy, would far surpass him with 45. His .938 winning percentage as a starting quarterback ranks sixth best in Division I history. Young’s career passing completion percentage is the best in UT history, 60.8%. During his career at Texas (2003–05), Young passed for 6,040 yards (No. 5 in UT history) and 44 TDs (No. 4 in UT history) while rushing for 3,127 yards (No. 1 on UT's all-time QB rushing list/No. 7 on UT's all-time list) and 37 TDs (No. 5 on UT's all-time rushing TDs list/Tied for No. 1 among QBs). He was also #10 on ESPN/IBM's list of the greatest college football players ever. In 2007, ESPN compiled a list of the top 100 plays in college football history; Vince Young's game-winning touchdown in the 2006 Rose Bowl ranked number 5.
The University of Texas retired Young's jersey number 10 during the 2008 season-opening football game on August 30, 2008.
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