By any measurement you want to use — records, statistics, trends, tea leaves, Ouija board, whatever — Texas football is down. Way down.
Before the calendar even flipped to October, the 3-2 Longhorns dropped a pair of football games to two decent teams that are now a combined 6-4.
Their starting quarterback, on the mend from a concussion or two, has already been ruled out for Saturday’s game. The backup quarterback has a 4-4 record as a starter. Texas’ best linebacker is done for the year. Is Mack as well? Fans are outtalking Wendy Davis about how to fix things.
Texas is coming off a narrow, controversial win over Iowa State, one of the worst teams in the conference. The Longhorns aren’t all that tested. Their five opponents this season have a collective 9-16 record, and those nine wins came against teams that have a combined 13-25 mark. Teams like Southeast Missouri State, Middle Tennessee and Massachusetts.
Mack Brown’s bunch should be able to roll the dice in a what-does-it-have-to-lose attitude. Who knows, maybe even Tyrone Swoopes will get on the field for a play or two.
But Oklahoma ain’t buying it for a second.
And why should it? A team doesn’t win three straight over its archrival and outscore its opponent by 88 points in those games by becoming complacent. The respectful Sooners promise they won’t either. They know a Texas win on Saturday would qualify as one of the biggest upsets in the 108-year history of this rivalry, maybe even the biggest.
“They’re a new team,” fullback Trey Millard said Monday. “And every game is different. If they play with a chip on their shoulder, it’ll be a dogfight.”
Did we mention the Sooners are well-coached? Where’s Brian Bosworth when we need him? There’s a reason this senior class is trying to become the third Bob Stoops group to go 4-0 against Texas.
Stoops isn’t falling asleep on an underachieving Texas as he attempts to become the first Oklahoma head coach ever to beat the Longhorns 10 times and only the second man ever after Matty Bell won 11 against Texas for SMU and Texas A&M in the 1930s and ’40s.
When I asked if he respected Brown, Stoops said, “Absolutely. How could you not?”
He pays little attention to all the drama in Austin but understands Brown’s plight. Stoops and Brown aren’t close friends, but Stoops said, “I’m not close to (Baylor’s) Art Briles either.” He’s too busy beating both of them.
So don’t expect the Sooners to feel sorry for the Longhorns, even if Oklahoma is a two-touchdown favorite. The Sooners went to great lengths to say nice things about the Longhorns.
Center Gabe Ikard called defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat “a really talented pass rusher.” And he is.
Cornerback Aaron Colvin said Texas “seems like they have a lot of good players. They always do.” Texas sure scores well in the recruiting sweepstakes.
Even new Sooners assistant Jay Boulware treads carefully. “There is a lot of pride between these two programs,” said Boulware, a former Texas offensive lineman. “We have the utmost respect for our opponent.”
Trey Millard went one step further.
“As far as an opponent, they really come in with nothing to lose,” the Oklahoma fullback said. “That always makes for a dangerous opponent.” Millard creates danger, mostly for defensive backs he hurdles or caroms off.
Remember, the Sooners haven’t even trailed in this October classic in the past three years. Not for one minute. Texas hasn’t led in this series since Hunter Lawrence booted the last of his three field goals for a win in 2009. That was back when Colt McCoy was still taking snaps here. Case McCoy will make only his ninth start ever with a shaky offensive line and a defense ranked 108th.
The bait has better odds against the fish than Texas, it would appear.
This is an Oklahoma team that has raced to a 5-0 record and a No. 12 ranking in the Associated Press poll with a stingy defense, but it has barely scratched the surface of its offensive potential, and don’t be surprised if the coaching staff dusts off the multifaceted Trevor Knight.
The freshman won the quarterback derby with junior Blake Bell in August but surrendered the job when he suffered a knee injury. He snapped off a 30-yard run on his first carry in relief against Notre Dame and promises to get his share of carries in the Cotton Bowl. Think BYU’s Taysom Hill with much more speed and athleticism. And Bell’s not bad either, having run for 24 touchdowns in two-plus seasons.
So it’s all lined up for a lopsided game. But is there any chance the Longhorns could get so discouraged that they give up early?
“You always have to respect your opponent,” Millard said. “But hopefully we’ll get up, and we’ll see what they do.”
And does he worry that Texas will be playing extra hard in maybe Brown’s final OU game?
“I don’t know,” he said. “But I wouldn’t mind if he went out with a loss.”