AUSTIN, Texas -- After a week off, Texas goes into its final home game of the season with a potentially huge finish on the horizon. All the Longhorns need to do is win two games.
First comes a Thanksgiving night game against a foe that already has four conference losses. Then a regular-season finale on the road against one of the teams atop the Big 12 standings. A share of the Big 12 title could be on the line, but not if Texas can’t win the first one.
Here’s what’s fascinating about that statement: It was just as true on Nov. 22, 2012, as it is today.
If the stakes this team now faces seem familiar, that’s because they’re almost identical to what the Longhorns faced one year ago.
This time it’s Texas Tech and Baylor on the slate. Last season, Texas was eyeing a trip to a BCS bowl and maybe even a slim hope of winning the conference with TCU and Kansas State standing in the way.
Those hopes were dashed by a Turkey Day disaster, a 20-13 home loss to the 6-4 Horned Frogs after Texas had clawed its way up to No. 16 in the BCS standings and back onto the national radar.
“We missed a great opportunity to get back in the mix for some things," Texas coach Mack Brown said afterward.
Then came a 42-24 loss to K-State, sending the Wildcats to the Fiesta Bowl. Before this season, Texas players said they remember the bitter taste left from having to watch their opponent celebrate a co-Big 12 championship.
Now they get an opportunity to replace that negative memory with a positive one.
“We just have to go back and regroup knowing that we still have a chance to win the Big 12,” cornerback Carrington Byndom said after Texas’ 38-13 loss to Oklahoma State. “We just have to win out.”
Last year, it was a Baylor win over Kansas State that created a glimmer of hope for Texas. This time around, Baylor’s loss to Oklahoma State has made perfectly clear what UT needs to do to snag a share of the Big 12 title: win out.
Two wins plus an Oklahoma victory over OSU in Bedlam means an outright title for Texas and the elusive BCS bowl trip.
That’s not much different from last year’s scenario, except Texas was crossing its fingers for a Sooners loss in 2012. Doesn’t matter if you don’t take care of your own business, though. And the Longhorns stumbled.
Texas turned the ball over four times, two coming on interceptions thrown in the red zone by an injured David Ash and one on a last-ditch effort to rally from Case McCoy. TCU won the rushing battle 217-86. The Longhorns squandered their big opportunity by squandering lots of little ones that night.
“At times we all didn't play well tonight. That's football,” lineman Mason Walters said after the loss. “Someone's got to step up and be the man, and we didn't have anyone doing that.”
That Texas team was coming off four straight wins. This one strung together six Big 12 victories in a row before the Cowboys came to Austin and blew them out. Nine days have passed since then.
This team has to defeat a Texas Tech team that began the year 7-0 and has now lost four in a row, then go on the road and beat a Baylor team that, despite revealing its vulnerabilities in a 49-17 loss this weekend, is still No. 9 in the BCS and capable of putting up 50-plus on the Longhorns.
What's it going to take to get to 9-3? Some of Texas' best football yet at a time when six starters are injured or out and the margin for error is slim.
"I don't think anybody is capable of playing perfect football. Football is a game and nothing's going to be perfect," receiver Jaxon Shipley said after the loss to OSU. “Ultimately, I think it's if you can be persistent. If you are facing adversity, can you overcome those?
"Today we didn't do that, but I think we can bounce back and we've still got a shot at winning the Big 12 championship."
And to pull that off, the Longhorns need a perfect 2-0 record to close the season. They need to do something they couldn't one year ago.