Texas-Oklahoma St. Preview
The Texas Longhorns last won the Big 12 in 2009. Since then, they have done a whole lot of losing.
Texas had losing records in Big 12 play the last two seasons, a trend the No. 12 Longhorns (3-0) hope to reverse starting Saturday night in their conference opener at defending champion Oklahoma State (2-1).
A win in rowdy Stillwater would be a big step toward showing they are indeed on the road back to the top of the league.
"The goal is to win the conference," Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. "You want to win the conference? This is the first step."
Texas was a league heavyweight for a decade, winning titles in 2005 and 2009, playing in the championship game in 1999 and 2001 and ranking among the nation's best teams most years.
But Texas is just 6-11 in the Big 12 over the last two seasons, a record offensive lineman Mason Walters said is "not the kind of football I want to be associated with."
A trip to Oklahoma State is a tough place to turn things around. The Cowboys beat Texas in Austin the last two years and the Cowboys' 20-5 mark in league play since 2009 is the best in the Big 12.
But Texas begins its Big 12 schedule brimming with confidence. The 3-0 start includes a home shutout of New Mexico and a 66-31 win at Mississippi, the most points Texas has scored since beating Colorado 70-3 in the 2005 Big 12 title game.
"It's been a long time around here since people were pleased with what they saw offensively," coach Mack Brown said.
Especially at quarterback, where sophomore David Ash is starting to blossom. Ash had to fight off Case McCoy in training camp to win the starting job and now ranks third nationally in passing efficiency with a 76 percent completion rate, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
Ash's four touchdowns and 326 yards passing against Ole Miss were career highs and quieted - for now - fans who questioned his ability to lead the offense.
"Before last week, I don't think there was anybody that liked me," Ash said. "Now everybody likes me."
The next three games will determine whether Texas is ready to compete for a title again. After playing Oklahoma State, the top-scoring team in the nation, the Longhorns host No. 9 West Virginia before playing No. 16 Oklahoma in Dallas.
"I want to see our toughness," Brown said. "I want to see how good we are nationally. We're going to see that here soon."
Brown is telling his team to take a one-and-done playoff approach to the Big 12 schedule. With no conference title game, the Big 12 crown with be determined by the weekly head-to-head matchups from now until December.
Brown also warned his team against getting too excited about being 3-0. The Longhorns started 3-0 in 2009 and ended up playing for the national championship. They also started 3-0 in 2010 and finished 5-7.
"We can show everybody we're better," Brown said. "Or we can show we've still got a lot of work to do."
Defensively, Brown and the Longhorns must prepare for two quarterbacks because Oklahoma State has yet to say whether starter Wes Lunt will be able to play after injuring his leg earlier this month.
"Everybody wants to know something but there's just not really much to say," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. "They cut him out of his cast (Sunday) and he looked good. ... They like the way he looked, all the stuff that they think is important."
Lunt was injured on the sixth play of Oklahoma State's 65-24 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 15. J.W. Walsh replaced him and led the Cowboys to a school-record 742 yards of total offense.
"No matter where you are on the depth chart, you've got to prepare like every day you're one play away," said Walsh, who threw for 347 yards and ran for 73 against Louisiana-Lafayette. "If you prepare that way and you prepare like you're the starter, when you do get a chance you're prepared and ready to go for the team."
While Walsh is more of a running threat than Lunt, Gundy claims Oklahoma State won't make wholesale changes to its offense because it would adversely affect the rest of the players. With Walsh in the game against Louisiana-Lafayette, the Cowboys frequently used two tight ends instead of four-receiver sets.
"I don't think Texas is concerned one bit. This is my opinion: They're going to run whatever they want to run and they'll make a decision out here what they do," Gundy said. "They play a lot of man (to man defense) ... so it's not like you're playing a team that plays a lot of zone and varies that based on the offense you're going to face. They play different than most people."