You can measure Texas coach Mack Brown's Hall of Fame credentials with any number of yardsticks: 233 victories, 153 of them in burnt orange; two BCS Championship Game appearances; one crystal football, that magical victory at the Rose Bowl that not only won the 2005 national championship but, as it turned out, ended USC's stay atop the sport.
Any one of them would all but guarantee Brown's status among the top coaches of this generation. But there is one other achievement that makes Brown a singular coach, an accomplishment that attests to how much he has done as the Longhorns' coach for 16 seasons. Brown has lost to archrival Oklahoma four times by at least 30 points, including the past two seasons.
Oklahoma 63, Texas 14 in 2000.
Oklahoma 65, Texas 13 in 2003.
Oklahoma 55, Texas 17 in 2011.
Oklahoma 63, Texas 21 in 2012.
That's an accomplishment? Look at it this way -- Brown has been so good at Texas that he got the chance to lose to Oklahoma four times by at least 30 points. That's not how college football works. In 2008, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville carried a six-year winning streak and a 7-2 record against Alabama into the Iron Bowl and lost 36-0. He never coached the Tigers again.
In a sport fueled by passion, the Red River Rivalry is among the most heated. In 107 meetings between the Longhorns and the Sooners, no coach on either side has lost more than one game by that amount -- except for Brown, who is 6-9 overall against Oklahoma. Sooners coach Bob Stoops has lost to Brown once by at least 30, 45-12 in 2005.
Remember, that's the season that the Longhorns won the BCS title. And the first two times that Brown lost this rivalry by 30-plus points, the Sooners won the BCS title (2000) and played for it (2003). If you get overrun, it softens the blow to know that the team that overran you is one of the last two teams playing.
Those days are gone. In the past two seasons, Oklahoma has not played for the crystal football, much less won it. The Sooners have not played in a BCS bowl, much less won one. And yet they beat the Longhorns by 38 and 42 points, respectively.
Now comes this week, when Texas (3-2, 2-0) and No. 12 Oklahoma (5-0, 2-0) head for Dallas. Brown's ability to withstand a pummeling at the Cotton Bowl may have come to an end just as the Longhorns appear poised to receive one. The oddsmakers list Texas as a two-touchdown underdog.
Every college football fan of a traditional power has lived through what the Longhorns are enduring, that period of years when your team wins at Iowa State by one point on a last-minute touchdown after a controversial call. Rather than elation or relief, you just feel hollow. A backhoe couldn't fill the pit in your stomach. It's a victory that you would never accept in the good times. Why would you be happy now?
That is the reality that Texas fans will face Saturday as they file into the State Fair of Texas, just as USC fans did when the Trojans struggled to put away Utah State last month, just as Alabama did in 2006 when the Tide edged past Vanderbilt 13-10, just as Oklahoma did in 1997 when it beat Baylor 24-23, just as Texas did in 1989 when it beat Rice 31-30.
And that is the point. Power in college football is cyclical. We talk of dynasties but the sport is ruled by oligarchy. From 1992 through 2012, a span of 21 seasons, only 13 schools won a national championship, and there are 13 only because Nebraska and Michigan shared the title in 1997. It is an elite club and Texas is current with its dues. But the current Texas is not the Texas that the Orangebloods want to be.
The Longhorns wear the same uniforms. Some of the players even have the same name. It's just that McCoy to Shipley no longer has the same ring to it that it did in 2009. Case and Jaxon are trying to match a family standard that so far has proved out of their reach. There's a lot of that going around. It is a standard that Mack Brown not only matched but exceeded for a long time, so long that Longhorns fans forgave him his big losses to Oklahoma.
No one in Texas is in a forgiving mood these days.