Longhorns starting to talk about 'national' goals
Back when the No. 2 Longhorns (8-0) were initially scheduled to play Central Florida (5-3), anything so bold would have been waved off as too much, too soon.
Now, however, the Longhorns know what's in front of them if they keep winning, starting Saturday.
"This becomes a national game now," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "If it were at the first of the season, it would not have been talked about a lot, but if you look at it now, we are in the mix at the end where everything we do is important. This game takes on a lot more importance than it would have if it were the third game of the year."
Texas is sitting at No. 2 in the Bowl Championship series standings and No. 1 in the Big 12 South with a four regular-season games left before the conference championship game.
Win out and Texas books passage to the BCS title game in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 7. That's a much better feeling for the Longhorns than this time last year, when they were coming off their only loss of the season at Texas Tech.
"We know that feeling," quarterback Colt McCoy said. "We don't want to feel it again."
Even with the talk of national goals, Brown said he senses a sharper focus for an opponent Texas is favored to beat by five touchdowns.
"The freshmen feel like they've got forever here. The seniors understand that bunch last year missed an opportunity of a lifetime to win a conference and national championship because of one game," Brown said.
"In fact, a couple of the seniors have said, 'You've got the rest of your life, we've got four weeks. Keep your mouth shut and play.' That's kind of been the message around here," Brown said.
McCoy and the other seniors also remember a tough game with Central Florida in 2007, when the Longhorns escaped Orlando with a 35-32 win. They've also noted how the Golden Knights had six sacks in a 27-7 loss to Miami on Oct. 17. The Golden Knights were in that game until Miami pulled away late.
Another effort like those and Central Florida could hobble Texas' championship march on the national stage.
"We got up a little bit and never put it away (in 2007). We just let them hang around and hang around. We had to make some plays at the end to actually win the game," McCoy said.
Brown is familiar with the tough defenses that Central Florida coach George O'Leary has put on the field over the years. The two used to square off in the ACC when Brown was at North Carolina and O'Leary was coaching at Georgia Tech.
"That's the way they beat you, so you can't let them hang around," Brown said.
For the Golden Knights, the key is to find ways to stand up to the Texas defense that ranks No. 1 in the country against the run and has surrendered only four touchdowns in the last three games.
"Texas has all the pieces in place to make a run at the national championship," O'Leary said.
Texas had already scheduled activities at the game to be a tribute to veterans, ceremonies that are sure to take on a more somber tone after the killings at Fort Hood, the sprawling Army post that is about 60 miles north of Austin. The ceremonies will include a military flyover with pilots who graduated from Texas.
Brown visited troops in Iraq last summer.
"We have also asked our players to dedicate the game to somebody, if they feel the need to, who is in their lives and is in the military," Brown said the day before the Fort Hood shootings. "We would like for them to play for them this weekend."