Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Although it may have raised an eyebrow or two around the Texas football facilities, the Longhorns weren’t saying much about being dropped in the polls this week.
Despite a 24-point victory over Colorado, the Longhorns dropped behind Alabama in the AP poll on Sunday, behind No. 1 Florida.
“It’s something that was mentioned, but it’s not really a big deal,” Texas guard Charlie Tanner said. “Everything takes care of itself by the end of the season. If we win every game and try to get that Big 12 championship, we’ll be where we want to be.”
Truthfully, the Longhorns’ drop isn’t surprising. They haven’t faced the kind of challenge that would make national pollsters really stop and take notice.
And with all due respect to Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, Texas Tech and UTEP, the Longhorns haven’t been tested by nearly the schedule that both Florida and Alabama have navigated this season.
The Gators beat LSU on the road with their starting quarterback iffy coming into the game. Alabama convincingly whipped Virginia Tech in Atlanta in the season opener and won at Mississippi last week with a fearsome defensive effort.
Texas struggled with Colorado, which had earlier been humiliated in nationally televised losses to Colorado State and Toledo. It wasn’t a great selling point for the Longhorns when it was noted they were behind at halftime and need a late charge to subdue the Buffaloes, who came into the game 1-3.
“Anytime you win, it’s a great thing,” Tanner said. “One of the things we have at Texas is that we want to win very convincingly. We have to realize that winning in this conference is tough sometimes and we just have to embrace it.”
And that’s why this week’s game against Oklahoma is so important.
The Sooners and Longhorns resonate across college football as one of the major rivalries. The game has only become bigger because it has been the seminal battle for South Division supremacy.
“The good thing is that everybody who follows football in the nation will be watching this game at noon Eastern, 11 a.m. Central,” Texas coach Mack Brown said, sounding almost like a huckster for the broadcast. “You don’t have to care about either of these teams to be interested in watching this game.”
Brown remembered it being that way when he served as Barry Switzer’s offensive coordinator in 1984. But it wasn’t nearly as big when Brown arrived at Texas in 1998 and Bob Stoops arrived a year later.
In those days, Kansas State, Nebraska and Texas A&M were the dominant Big 12 programs.
“The OU game is back here where it should be,” Brown said. “When we got here, it really had lost its luster some as a national game. People were talking about it being on regional TV and I was in shock. For this not to be the game of the week in the nation was very disappointing to me after being at both schools.”
Stoops arrived the following season and won a national championship. That success has rekindled the rivalry where it is THE GAME in the country this week.
Texas has the chance to take advantage of that exposure with a big performance that will elevate them back into the mix with the Gators and Crimson Tide.
Still, there are enough concerns about the Longhorns to worry Brown.
Texas rushed for only 46 yards in 25 carries against Colorado. Both top running backs Vondrell McGee and Tre' Newton were dinged in that game and will be questionable during practice this week. Brown appears ready to rely on oft-injured Fozzy Whittaker as his primary back if necessary.
Take away a big game from scintillating wide receiver Jordan Shipley and an opportunistic game from Texas special games and the 38-14 margin of victory is much closer. The Longhorns capitalized on Colorado mistakes to return a blocked punt, a punt return and a 92-yard interception return by Earl Thomas for a touchdown. That kind of game would be great for your fantasy football team, but won’t sway too many pollsters.
“It was a weird game,” Texas quarterback Colt McCoy said. “When you have three non-offensive touchdowns, it really kinds of throws a loop to you. You can get in a groove and find that rhythm that you can normally find in a game. You can’t judge off that game because it’s weird.”
Fortunately for the Longhorns, the Oklahoma game couldn’t be coming along at a better time. Now, they need to take advantage of the opportunity to reclaim some of that missing national respect.