AUSTIN, Texas -- For much of Saturday night, it seemed Texas was about to get its burnt orange car back on the road.
The car had picked up some dents and scratches after taking a wrong turn during a stop in Utah, but its travels had really just begun. Its driver asked a new passenger for directions and set his sights on correcting their course.
But the roads that awaited were trickier than expected, even though the car had already rolled over them a year earlier. Nobody expected it to veer off in this particular direction.
OK, fine, enough with the silly extended metaphor. You don’t need it to know Texas is in dangerous territory right now, that starting the season 1-2 is bad, but worse days could be coming.
The season isn’t over. Nine games remain. These next three will tell Texas fans everything they need to know about where this is all heading.
Here’s a closer look at Texas’ first three Big 12 games and the challenges the Longhorns are about to face.
Sept. 21: Kansas State
The Longhorns seemed destined to end their sorry streak of losses to Kansas State in 2013. Bill Snyder is a wizard, no question, but replacing guys such as Collin Klein, Arthur Brown and Chris Harper, who led KSU to the conference title and Fiesta Bowl berth, is easier said than done.
FCS power North Dakota State got the best of this KSU squad to start off the season, and back then Texas fans felt confident that a victory over the Wildcats seemed probable. Two losses later, nothing is guaranteed.
Texas hasn’t defeated K-State since 2003, and even then it was a close, 24-20 win. A victory Saturday would send a message that the Longhorns aren’t giving up. Jake Waters, Daniel Sams and John Hubert are capable of giving this struggling defense trouble. Greg Robinson has one game under his belt as defensive coordinator now and more time to make changes.
“Next week, I think we’ll start seeing more progress,” Mack Brown said Saturday night. “They obviously played better tonight than they did last week.”
If Texas loses, no matter the margin, it’s just more gasoline on the fire.
Oct. 3: Iowa State
We don’t know how long David Ash is out, but ideally with a bye week between these games, Texas has to hope he’ll be 100 percent and ready to go when the team travels to Ames, Iowa, for a Thursday night battle.
Before the season, this game seemed like a candidate to be a trap game for Texas, especially after what ISU did to then-No. 2 Oklahoma State at home on a Friday night two years ago. Paul Rhoads notched a victory against Texas in 2010 and his players will be fired up for the opportunity, no matter what Texas' record is by then.
It’s simple: If the Longhorns hope to get to six wins, they’ve got to win this one. Coming up short against ISU one week before Red River would be a demoralizing blow. There might be no recovering from that.
A victory and Texas is either 3-2 or 2-3 with plenty of football left to be played and, perhaps, some confidence and optimism going forward. Lose and, well, you’ll be seeing a lot of empty seats in the Cotton Bowl nine days later.
Oct. 12: Oklahoma
The Sooners have Notre Dame and TCU on the schedule before traveling to Dallas, but neither of those foes looks as intimidating now as they did before the season began. Expect OU to be 4-1 or 5-0 by the time the big rivalry game arrives.
Here’s the problem with this game, and predicting what comes before it: Texas can beat Kansas State and Iowa State and still lose badly to OU. No matter what we see in the next two games, another beatdown from Bob Stoops and the Sooners would probably seal Brown’s fate.
This was a must-win no matter how the season played out. The fan base can’t take a fourth consecutive loss, especially if that’s three blowouts in a row.
If Texas gets everything fixed quickly and scraps together three consecutive victories, Brown’s talk of competing for a Big 12 title won’t sound so crazy. Beat Oklahoma and fans might not even care what Texas’ record is, truthfully.
This three-game slate can play out in lots of wild and crazy ways. We’re talking about a stretch that could save a program or end a coaching legend’s career. Get ready. This ride could get bumpy.