Heading into Oklahoma game, Texas' goal is clear: Win 'em all
Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley and the 'Horns have the talent to make the title game
With OU stumbling and an otherwise weak schedule, there's no margin for error
After getting shafted last year, they need to win 'em all, not leave it to the system
There was a cool moment last summer when Texas teammates -- and roommates, and best friends -- Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley went fishing with a professional angler. As part of the made-for-TV moment, producers challenged the quarterback to connect with the wide receiver, like he has so often over the last few years.
McCoy shrugged, stood on the lake shore and threw a perfect strike. Shipley easily caught it -- from a bass boat. It was a crossing route at 40 miles per hour.
Impressive, and the kind of stuff that makes you think Texas might have what it takes to achieve its lofty goals. The degree of difficulty in winning the BCS Championship couldn't be much harder, right?
At 5-0, the Longhorns are almost halfway to erasing the sour taste left last year, when they fell just short. But it's Oklahoma week, which has meant more talk of asterisks, and tiebreakers, and banners flying from planes.
They insist there's no notion of revenge, which is good, because that angle gets complicated. Texas beat Oklahoma last season. The frustration came when the Sooners, after a three-way tie in the Big 12 South, won a goofy tiebreaker and played for the conference championship, then for the BCS title.
"We try not to talk about that," McCoy said. "We understood if we would have handled our business, last year would have been different, but you can't play the 'what-if' game."
But we can and will. The Longhorns' mantra as they head to Dallas is simple: "Win 'em all." This is Mack Brown's talking point, parroted by the players, and it's a good one. The Longhorns know what can happen otherwise.
"I learned a great lesson last year," Brown said. "If you don't win all the games, it goes into a system. ... You lose control of your destiny -- so you'd better win 'em all."
But it's more than a neat catchphrase. Last year, the 'Horns could easily have reached the BCS Championship without winning 'em all. Oklahoma did after losing to ... Texas. And despite that early November loss to Texas Tech, Texas was just a couple of voters' whims and a few computer whirs away from getting to the Big 12 Championship, and from there to a date with Florida in Miami.
Not this time around.
Brown's got it right. Lose Saturday to the Sooners, or later to any other team, and the Longhorns are almost certainly finished. At least in terms of the BCS Championship race, and getting to Pasadena.
The Longhorns would drop below once-beaten Virginia Tech and USC, and probably Ohio State, LSU and perhaps even Miami. We shouldn't forget unbeaten Boise State, TCU or Cincinnati, either.
It's only midseason, and Texas could climb back up the rankings, but it would need a lot of help to get past all of those teams. We've seen those kinds of shake-ups, and we'll probably see them again. But if complete chaos occurred, we would also need to consider the possibility of a Florida-Alabama rematch for the BCS Championship. Assuming, of course, the Gators and Tide had played in a very competitive SEC Championship game.
McCoy, of course, would say it's all assumptions and what-ifs, and he's right. But here's what we know: Saturday's showdown isn't what we expected going into the season -- Sam Bradford vs. McCoy for the Heisman, Texas-Oklahoma in a de facto national semifinal.
The Sooners lost Bradford in the first game, and two one-point losses to ranked opponents followed. Oklahoma is out of the national title hunt, reduced to a spoiler's role.
"Their record doesn't indicate how good they really are," McCoy said.
It sounds programmed, automatic, just what you'd say about an opponent. With Bradford back, it might even be true, although the Sooners haven't been very impressive so far. But the problem for Texas is that beating Oklahoma no longer means quite as much.
Losing to the Sooners, meanwhile, would spell disaster; there might not be another marquee game on the Longhorns' schedule.
While Oklahoma has stumbled, Texas has mostly feasted on a diet of cream puffs. Nothing so wrong about that, and it should be noted the nonconference schedule originally Arkansas and Utah. But the Razorbacks postponed their game to another year, and the Utes canceled a three-game series (Austin in 2007 and '09, Salt Lake City in '08).
"We got caught a little bit short," Brown said.
The Longhorns' early slate hasn't made anyone sit up and take notice. Beating Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming and UTEP (with Central Florida coming next month) isn't a setup for glory (though at this point, you figure the Sooners would take that lineup).
Of course, Florida has done OK while playing nonconference nobodies, so Texas shouldn't be dinged for the same thing. But the Longhorns don't figure to get many style points for running the Big 12 table, either.
Not after Bradford went down and Oklahoma went belly-up to BYU and Miami. A Texas win would drop the Sooners to 3-3, and while that would be especially satisfying to anyone in burnt orange, it doesn't have the same impact as pinning the first loss on Texas would for those in crimson and cream.
After the Oklahoma game, Texas' remaining schedule doesn't look daunting -- which is a good thing if you're trying to go unbeaten, but not as nice if you're trying to make up lost ground.
Oklahoma State was a trendy preseason pick for the top 10, but the Cowboys were upset by Houston, then Dez Bryant lost his eligibility. That game in Stillwater on Halloween could still be scary for the Longhorns. With all that orange and black, it probably will be. But beating the Cowboys probably won't mean the same as it could have.
Meanwhile, no one expects much from the Big 12 North. But it didn't help that Missouri lost to Nebraska and dropped out of the rankings, and Kansas looks like a 5-0 fraud.
Lose to Oklahoma, and Texas' best chance for BCS redemption is to hope the Huskers keep winning, making for a fairly enticing Big 12 Championship matchup. The better course -- the only sure path -- would be to win 'em all.
Never mind the records, everyone will watch Texas-Oklahoma, as usual. It's the Longhorns' best chance to make a serious statement.
"Saturday," Brown said, "will be a big step for us to get our face back out there nationally."
The good news: There won't be any need for an asterisk this season; Texas will win any tiebreaker based on BCS standings. And the way McCoy and Shipley keep connecting, the Longhorns look like a good bet to win 'em all.
George Schroeder covers college football for the Eugene Register Guard and is the president of the FWAA. Follow him on Twitter.
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