Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
STILLWATER, Okla. -- If it seems like old times for Mack Brown tonight, it’s understandable.
Tonight should be the toughest remaining challenge for the Longhorns en route to the Big 12 championship game. If they can win tonight, it should be smooth sailing to the Dallas Cowboys Stadium on Dec. 5.
It was similar in 2005, when the Longhorns similarly opened up a lead in the South after beating Oklahoma. They overcame a big deficit in Oklahoma State in what turned out to be their biggest challenge of the game en route to their first undisputed national championship since 1969.
A victory tonight puts the Longhorns in control of their BCS destiny. With Florida and Alabama bound to either lose or play each other in the SEC title game, the Longhorns are positioned to be in the top two if they can win out.
Here are some things I’m watching for tonight before what should be a record crowd at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Colt McCoy will have a chance to state his Heisman case in a national spotlight. The game will either be on ABC or ESPN2, so a big night will receive a wide national spotlight. McCoy threw for 269 yards and three touchdowns last week. He needs another big game tonight -- particularly after Tim Tebow’s big game against Georgia earlier this afternoon.
But don’t discount Oklahoma State’s Zac Robinson. If the Cowboys could engineer an upset tonight, his Heisman candidacy will get a boost. The fact he’s done it most of the season without Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter makes him a good story. But a victory tonight would introduce him to the nation.
Oklahoma State needs to seal the deal if they get Texas behind. The Longhorns came back from a 19-point second-quarter deficit in 2005, to win a 47-28 game. In 2007, the Longhorns came back from a 21-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter to escape with a 38-35 victory -- the largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history. In those two games, Texas outscored the Cowboys, 100-7, in the second half.
While Mike Gundy claims his team isn’t snakebitten against Texas, it might be hard to believe that after losing 11 straight games. Gundy has been around as the head coach for the last four of them.
Whether Kendall Hunter plays in the game or not, it is critical for the Cowboys to run the ball effectively. That would give them the ability to keep Texas from being able to tee off on them with their variety of blitzes that have been so successful this season.
Texas’ “Goon Squad” defense has knocked out three straight rival quarterbacks in their last three games. They’ll be gunning for four tonight against Robinson.
The Cowboys must do a good job stuffing the Longhorns’ short passing game, particularly passes to Jordan Shipley. In order to do that, a big game from cornerback Perrish Cox will be critical. Look for Cox and Shipley to be hooked up often in one-on-one coverage.
Whoever wins the special teams battle will likely win this game. The Longhorns lead the conference with a 31.4 kickoff return average and have produced two touchdowns. Oklahoma State leads the conference in punt return average and Texas is third with four touchdowns.
Oklahoma State special teams coordinator Joe De Forest typically plays as many starters on his special teams than any team in the Big 12. He’ll need a big game out of his unit tonight.