Horns, Huskers seek Big 12 title

Texas might have branded the number on Bevo's hide as a reminder.

As if anyone in Texas needed to be reminded about how far the Longhorns finished behind rival Oklahoma in the BCS standings the week before last season's Big 12 championship game.

For those Texas fans who have tried to erase it from their memories forever, here it is again: .0128.

That is what kept the Longhorns from playing Missouri in the 2008 Big 12 championship game in Kansas City, and it was what ultimately cost them a chance at playing Florida for the BCS national championship.

Three days after blasting rival Texas A&M 49-9 in their final regular-season game in '08, the Longhorns learned they had lost a controversial three-way tiebreaker to Oklahoma in the Big 12 South.

Because Texas beat Oklahoma, Oklahoma beat Texas Tech and Texas Tech beat Texas, the three-way tie was decided by which team was highest in the BCS standings.

Oklahoma was 0.128 better than Texas -- even though the Longhorns had been 10 points better than the Sooners in a 45-35 victory in the Red River Rivalry at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

"We were together in the room a year ago last Sunday," Texas coach Mack Brown said Thursday. "They came out with the .0128 rating. They looked at each other and committed to themselves that they were going to play in this game this year and win."

A year later, Texas finally gets its chance to play for its first Big 12 championship since 2005. The No. 3 Longhorns will play No. 22 Nebraska on Saturday night (ABC, 8 ET) at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

If the Longhorns win, they'll play the winner of Saturday's SEC championship game between No. 1 Florida or No. 2 Alabama in the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif.

"They decided they were going to take care of their business this year and not let the system run them out because they lost a game at [Texas] Tech," Brown said.

In fact, Texas hasn't lost again since watching Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree score on a 28-yard touchdown catch with one second left in the Red Raiders' 39-33 victory in Lubbock on Nov. 1, 2008.

The Longhorns ended last season with a four-game winning streak, after beating Ohio State 24-21 in the Fiesta Bowl. They've won all 12 games this year and carry a 16-game winning streak into the Big 12 championship game.

There's no time for losing now, even in a game where national championship game hopes have historically been dashed.

In the very first Big 12 championship game in 1996, unranked Texas upset No. 3 Nebraska 37-27, knocking the Cornhuskers out of the national title race.

Texas A&M did the same to No. 2 Kansas State in 1998, upsetting the Wildcats 36-33 in double overtime. Texas was on the wrong end again in 2001, losing to No. 9 Colorado 39-37.

Two years ago, No. 9 Oklahoma routed No. 1 Missouri 38-17 in the Big 12 championship game, which cost the Tigers a chance to play for their first BCS national title.

Brown can only hope the Longhorns react the way his team did in 2005, when Texas crushed Colorado 70-3 in the Big 12 title game. The No. 2 Longhorns went on to win their first national championship since 1970, beating No. 1 USC 41-38 in the Rose Bowl.

"The five-year seniors lived with this pressure in 2005," Brown said. "If we did not make it to the conference championship game and win and play USC for the national championship it was a bad year. This team has played with the same pressure all year."

Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who leads the Big 12's best defense in terms of points allowed (11.08 per game), said the Cornhuskers have plenty riding on Saturday night's outcome, too.

"We have a lot of stake," Suh said. "We want to win the Big 12 championship and play in a BCS bowl game. Then there's the Big 12 North against the Big 12 South. Everybody thinks the South is better than the North, and we can show everyone that our division is good, too."

The Cornhuskers might be ahead of schedule in coach Bo Pelini's second season. Nebraska finished 9-4 in Pelini's first season, beating Clemson 26-21 in the Gator Bowl.

After losing consecutive home games to Texas Tech and Iowa State in October, the Cornhuskers finished the regular season with a five-game winning streak.

Texas is coming off its best offensive performance of the season in a 49-39 victory at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night. Quarterback Colt McCoy passed for 304 yards and four touchdowns and ran for a career-high 175 yards and a score.

But Texas' defense gave up a season-high 532 yards against the Aggies.

"I thought last week was good for us," Brown said. "It was good for us because the offense hasn't gotten the credit it deserved the last five or six weeks and they get 600 yards and 49 points. It probably was a wake-up call for the defense. On a short week, we put some things in that we didn't handle very well. I think it's put a tremendous amount of pressure back on our defense to play better, which is probably good right now for them."

Nebraska isn't nearly as explosive as the Aggies on offense, but the Longhorns haven't faced many defenses as formidable as the Cornhuskers, either.

"What concerns me is their ability to line up and be physical and run the ball right at you and keep the ball," Brown said. "They can play a keep-away game. This is a faster Nebraska team in the secondary and at linebacker than we've seen in a while."

While Texas has much more riding on the game's outcome, beating the Longhorns would go a long way in putting the Cornhuskers back where they once were -- among the sport's elite teams.

"It would be a nice feather in our cap," Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said. "You couldn't say our program had arrived because we'd still have some building to do. But it would be a nice feather in our cap."

With a victory, Texas' prize would be so much more.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.