Minutes after Texas beat the No. 1 team in the country last Saturday, Colt McCoy was already looking ahead to the Longhorns’ next game, against a Missouri team he speculated would take over the top spot.
The Tigers’ loss later that night, however, shook up the rankings even more, opened the door for Texas to claim the No. 1 ranking and set up a pivotal Big 12 showdown between teams feeling pressure to win for very different reasons.
The Longhorns look to remain undefeated and protect their first regular-season No. 1 ranking since 1984 on Saturday night when they host the 11th-ranked Tigers, who hope to bounce back from their first loss and keep their conference title hopes alive.
Texas (6-0, 2-0) entered last week as the fifth-ranked team in the country, but hadn’t been challenged in its first five games, each of which the Longhorns won by at least 24 points.
The Longhorns’ schedule is getting tougher, but Texas passed its first big test with flying colors, unseating top-ranked Oklahoma 45-35 last Saturday. McCoy was 28-for-35 for 277 yards and a touchdown, and the Longhorns scored 35 of the game’s last 49 points.
“Right now, this team would be known for heart and character and toughness,” said Texas coach Mack Brown, whose team hosts No. 8 Oklahoma State and visits No. 7 Texas Tech following this game. “Everybody has questioned this team, including me. I didn’t know how good we are.”
The Longhorns are apparently good enough to be ranked No. 1, but not without help from across the country. Texas jumped over three top-five teams that lost last weekend, including Missouri (5-1, 1-1), which fell from No. 3 after a 28-23 loss to the Cowboys.
Chase Daniel, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season and an early favorite in 2008, completed 39 of 52 passes for 390 yards, but threw a season-low one touchdown and three second-half interceptions.
“Put it all on me,” said Daniel, who had 15 TDs and one interception before the loss. “I should have made all three of those throws. It seemed like we were a little bit off all night. For the reason, I have no idea.”
Despite the defeat, the Tigers remain among the favorites to win the Big 12 North, and Daniel knows a win over the top-ranked team in the country could go a long way toward determining how things shake out for Missouri at the end of the regular season.
“You look at all the so-called title contenders, and we’re right outside the Top 10,” he said. “At the end of the year it means something. What we can do is go back and fix all the mistakes, because we know we have a huge, huge test ahead of us.”
Daniel insists he’s just focused on getting Missouri back on track, not on getting revenge against a Texas program that only made him an 11th-hour scholarship offer after another player switched schools.
“That happened so long ago,” said Daniel, who starred in suburban Dallas and is making his first career start against the Longhorns. “It’s four or five years ago and I’ve had such a great experience here. I don’t really think about it too much anymore. It’s how it’s supposed to be. I went my way and they went theirs, and I think it worked out for both of us.”
The Longhorns certainly aren’t complaining, considering the success they’ve had with McCoy. After a shaky sophomore season in which he threw 18 interceptions, the junior has completed 79.4 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and just three picks during Texas’ first 6-0 start since its undefeated 2005 national championship season.
“He’s just making those plays, and he knows when something’s not working why it’s not working,” said Brown, whose team is 26-6 in games started by McCoy. “Last year, we thought he got frustrated some and tried to move probably a little bit faster than he should at times because he was trying to make plays on his own.”
Thanks in part to McCoy’s leadership, Texas is now in the driver’s seat in its quest for a second national championship in four years.
“The fact that we won this game makes next week’s game with Missouri even that much bigger,” Brown said last weekend, “because now it puts us in a different place. Now we’re looking at a bigger goal.”
To accomplish it, Texas will likely need to beat Missouri for the fifth straight time. The Longhorns have won the last four meetings by an average of 23.0 points, and are 5-1 against the Tigers since the teams became conference rivals in the Big 12’s inaugural 1996 season.