Key Stretch: Texas

The next in our series outlining which games mean the most for each team in the Big 12.

Today: the Longhorns of Austin.

The stretch: at Texas Tech (Sept. 18), vs. UCLA (Sept. 25), vs. Oklahoma (Oct. 2) and at Nebraska (Oct. 16)

The breakdown: First things first: 1-3 is a very real possibility for Texas during this stretch. Texas Tech is in perfect position for the upset, bringing the Longhorns to Lubbock and making Garrett Gilbert face his first tough test on the road after warmup games against Rice and Wyoming.

Texas Tech has plenty of its own questions, but Texas had better hope this game doesn't turn into a shootout. They've got the defense to do it, but keeping this to a 24-17 sort of game would put the Longhorns in a much better situation. The fewer times Gilbert is forced to make pressure throws, the better. Get him into manageable third-and-4s with a bruising running game featuring Tre Newton, Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson. The more third-and-11s Gilbert sees, the more likely it is that Texas Tech makes him pay for it. He's seen a James Willis defense (Texas Tech's current coordinator) before, as the linebackers coach at Alabama. Willis will be coming after Gilbert often, testing the sophomore just like he did in the national title game.

UCLA is a losable game, but if Texas takes care of business, they should win convincingly. The Longhorns home-winning streak won't last forever, but the Bruins ending it would be a shocker.

Texas-Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl has been a toss-up for the past few years, and 2010 shouldn't be any different. Expect each defense to dominate the other team, with the winner taking advantage of a few key plays. Annually, with both teams in the top 10, it's one of the toughest games to pick in the conference. Texas has had the edge lately, winning four of the past five games in Dallas.

You may have heard something about this Texas-Nebraska game coming up. I can recall a few things.

Texas' two weeks to prepare for the Huskers is a bit of an X factor, but Nebraska gets nine days after a Thursday night matchup against Kansas State. From the outside looking in, it would seem Nebraska and its fans are taking the game a bit more seriously than Texas and its exes. We'll see if that's the case on the field. Texas has the advantage in overall defense by a hair. Quarterbacks favor Texas by a mile and running backs favor Nebraska. Offensive lines lean toward Lincoln. With each team's fearsome secondary, the receivers may be rendered meaningless. But like in the Big 12 title game, it could come down to special teams. Texas doesn't have Hunter Lawrence to depend on anymore. Nebraska still has Alex Henery, one of the nation's best.

The prediction: 3-1, with a loss to Nebraska

More Key stretches: