There will be plenty at stake when No. 8 Baylor travels to Texas for a Big 12 showdown on Saturday afternoon at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, but the roles predicted for the two rivals in the preseason have changed a lot.
Baylor (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) had been expected to take a step back from the top of the conference in the wake of the firing of coach Art Briles and the sexual assault allegations against the school that rocked the college football world in the offseason.
Instead the Bears have kept their swagger, closed ranks under interim coach Jim Grobe, reeled off nothing but wins over the first half of their season and moved steadily up the rankings.
Conversely, great things were expected of Texas (3-4, 1/3 Big 12), especially after the Longhorns won their first two games, one of which was a season-opening victory against then-No. 10 Notre Dame.
Since then, Texas has lost four of five contests, including a 24-21 defeat at Kansas State last Saturday. Coach Charlie Strong, who was crowd-surfed by his players after the win over the Fighting Irish, is just trying find a way to uncork the Longhorns' potential while fighting to keep his job.
Texas and Baylor have met 105 times through the years, with the Longhorns holding a 75-26-4 edge. Lately, the Bears have controlled the series, winning four of the past six editions.
Baylor has started 6-0 in each of the last four years, a program first and the only FBS program to do so.
The rivalry has become testy in the past few years, with plenty of animosity on display between the two teams -- and even a fistfight -- in Texas' 23-17 win in Waco last year.
"We expect it to be a little more intense than the other games," Baylor quarterback Seth Russell said. "So we are expecting that going into it and just trying to focus on winning the game. We can't control the outside distractions, so there's no reason to really worry about them."
Baylor linebacker Aiavion Edwards said the Bears will approach this game like they would any other opponent despite the recent fireworks between the two teams.
"We just have to focus on the next win, the next game, so it's huge anyway you look at it," Edwards said. "We're trying to focus on taking care of business and going down there and getting a win. After playing here, and playing in the Big 12, you respect all the teams. (Texas is) the next team up."
The Bears are the most complete team in the Big 12, averaging 549.2 yards of offense (third most in the conference and fourth nationally) while allowing just 320.3 yards per game (best in the Big 12 and 16th nationally in total defense).
Things have to change, and in a hurry, if Texas is going to salvage this year from the scrap heap.
"We just haven't played well and we have to be better," Strong said Monday in his weekly media availability. "We'd like to see more (improvement), would like to be better and we are so close, maybe just a few plays away each game. Everyone's tired of hearing me say that, including the players, but that's where we are."
The Longhorns had every opportunity to snatch a victory last week at Kansas State but couldn't take advantage of the Wildcats' rare show of generosity that included eight penalties and three turnovers as well as forgetting to cover Texas wide receiver Devin Duvernay on a deep pass that went for the Longhorns' first touchdown.
"You just get sick because you see all the points you left out there on the field," Texas wide receiver Dorian Leonard said. "We're still just trying to put our finger on that one thing that's just holding us back. I'm so ready for this game. Going into practice this week, I'm going to try to be the 'hype man' all week, try to keep everybody up."
Texas junior running back D'Onta Foreman has been a key cog in the Longhorns' offense and ranks third in the country with an average of 142.5 rushing yards per game. Foreman has carried the ball 141 times for 855 yards (11th nationally) and eight touchdowns, despite missing a game earlier in the year.