Texas facing 'must win' just to get bowl bid
Looking back at the wreckage of the season, Texas coach Mack Brown would like to start over.
Brown thinks he could fix some of the things that have gone wrong during the Longhorns' worst season in 13 years. He realizes he missed problem signs.
''We've come to grips with a lot of things,'' Brown said Monday, without elaborating. ''I think we're back on track.''
But there's no time to start over. The Longhorns (5-6, 2-5 Big 12) have only a few days to get ready for a rivalry game against No. 16 Texas A&M (8-3, 5-2). Texas must win Thanksgiving night just to become bowl-eligible a season after playing for the national championship.
''You want your seniors to go to (a bowl). That's what they expect,'' Brown said.
At Texas A&M, the Aggies still have a chance to earn a share of the Big 12 South title and just their second nine-win season since 1998.
They also could become the latest victor on the ''Beat Texas Tour,'' which has made Austin its favorite stop. Texas has lost four of its six home games this season and had lost four in a row before beating Florida Atlantic 51-17 last weekend.
For wide receiver James Kirkendoll and Texas' other seniors, it will be their last game on their home field and their last in a Texas uniform if they don't win.
''Having a winning season is all we care about,'' Kirkendoll said. ''All the seniors want to be remembered as winners. A win against A&M would help.''
The Texas senior class is 40-11, having earned a No. 1 ranking for a month in 2008 and a Big 12 championship and undefeated regular season in 2009. They also carry the burden of this season's collapse.
Texas fell out of The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 1999 and lost four in a row at home for the first time since 1956.
''I think they'll be remembered as winners if you look at the body of work,'' junior safety Blake Gideon said.
Senior defensive end Sam Acho, who has excelled on the field and stayed as optimistic as possible this season despite his team's struggles, said even he has felt frustrated.
''There were moments of frustration, of `Why is this happening?''' Acho said.
Acho said Texas' disappointing season is not a sign the program is headed for a period of decline after nine consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins.
''It's definitely not a decline. In life, you go through high periods and low periods. We're climbing out of that valley and trying to get back to the mountaintop,'' he said.
Last week's win over Florida Atlantic of the Sun Belt Conference was at least a start. Texas finally made the big plays it had been missing all season and looked cohesive on offense for the first time in weeks. The Longhorns defense scored its first touchdown since the first game of the season.
''It was great for the guys to get a win ... it's been a while,'' Brown said. ''It should give us some momentum and confidence.''
But the Longhorns are running into a group of Aggies who may be the hottest team in the Big 12.
Texas A&M has won five games in a row, including victories over Oklahoma and Nebraska. Coach Mike Sherman benched starting quarterback Jerrod Johnson for Ryan Tannehill, who is undefeated in four starts.
The Aggies don't have a good history in Austin. Texas A&M is just 1-6 in Austin since the start of Big 12 play in 1996.
Several Texas players stopped short of saying they'd be embarrassed if they lose and don't make a bowl game.
''It would be a disappointment for the program,'' linebacker Emmanuel Acho said.