Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo spent a frustrating Saturday night watching the Longhorns' hopes of playing for the national championship dashed.

Yesterday afternoon he gave Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes tips on how to stop Oklahoma, which reached the championship game despite a loss to Orakpo's Longhorns.

Orakpo finally got a reason to celebrate last night, when he beat out Spikes and three other finalists to win the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded by the Charlotte (N.C.) Touchdown Club to the nation's top defensive player.

"A dream come true," Orakpo said.

And the end to an emotional weekend for the strong and powerful 6-4, 260-pound senior from Houston who ranks sixth in the nation with 10 1/2 sacks.

After the Bowl Championship Series rankings put Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game ahead of Texas despite the Longhorns' 45-35 win over the Sooners, Orakpo could only sit and root for Missouri on Saturday night, hoping for a major upset that could put Texas in the title game.

No chance. The Sooners cruised to a 62-21 win. Oklahoma will face Florida for the title, while Texas faces Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Orakpo arrived in Charlotte yesterday and met up with Spikes and fellow Bronko Nagurski finalists Jerry Hughes, a defensive end from TCU and Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith. The fifth finalist, Southern California linebacker Rey Maualuga, had a final exam today and couldn't attend.

Spikes, who a day earlier helped the Gators beat Alabama for the Southeastern Conference title and a spot in the championship game, quickly quizzed Orakpo on the Sooners and their top-ranked offense.

Good choice. Orakpo had two sacks, four tackles for a loss and a forced fumble against Oklahoma.

"I asked him a few questions, about the O-line and their rushing attack," Spikes said. "He told me a few things. I can't say too much."

Noteworthy

* East Carolina coach Skip Holtz hopes to meet with Syracuse's athletic director, but said he is not close to accepting the Orange's head-coaching job.

Holtz said he has had no formal meetings with Syracuse and called an NFL Network report that he was to be introduced as the new coach today "inaccurate." Holtz, however, didn't rule out replacing the fired Greg Robinson.

Holtz led the Pirates to a 27-24 win at Tulsa in the Conference USA championship game Saturday. East Carolina (9-4) will play Kentucky in the Liberty Bowl.

Holtz and his wife are scheduled to be in New York today and tomorrow for events surrounding his father Lou Holtz' induction into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.

Lou Holtz said that his son would in fact meet with Syracuse officials in New York today.

* Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford is expected back at practice within 10 days after having surgery on his left, non-throwing, hand.

The Sooners are taking off this week before starting preparations for the BCS championship game against Florida in Miami on Jan. 8. *