After clearing arguably its biggest hurdle, Texas is in prime position to return to the BCS title game.
If history is an indication, the third-ranked Longhorns should maintain that spot after Saturday night’s trip to face a young, struggling Missouri team.
Texas (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) used Hunter Lawrence’s 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to eke out a 16-13 win over No. 20 Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl, its fourth victory in five years against the Sooners.
Thanks in part to that win, the Longhorns were ranked third in the initial BCS standings, behind Florida and Alabama. However, those SEC schools could meet in their conference’s championship Dec. 5, paving the way for Texas to reach its first title game since beating USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
The goal for the Longhorns is a perfect second half, something that’s eluded them over the last three seasons. Four of Texas’ seven losses in that span have come in November, and a last-second defeat at Texas Tech kept them out of last season’s title game.
“The pressure is there being No. 3 because everybody says to every one of our kids that unless you win them all you’re not going to have a chance to get what you want,” coach Mack Brown said. “I feel like they know that if you are in the top 3 or 4 then it is okay.”
However, the Longhorns’ second-half schedule isn’t nearly as arduous as last season’s, which featured three straight games against teams ranked 11th or higher. This season, they travel to No. 14 Oklahoma State on Halloween night and host No. 24 Kansas on Nov. 24.
Texas has also thrived in October and especially after playing the Sooners.
The Longhorns are 21-1 in the month since beating the Tigers on Oct. 16, 2004, and haven’t lost the week after playing the Sooners since 1997, when they fell 37-29 at Missouri in former coach John Mackovic’s final season.
The Longhorns have won five straight over the Tigers since then and 14 of 15.
However, Texas will face a Tigers team enduring growing pains as it rebuilds after consecutive Big 12 North titles.
Missouri (4-2, 0-2) held a three-point lead in the second quarter at Oklahoma State last week, but allowed 19 unanswered in a 33-17 defeat. The Tigers also gave up 27 straight fourth-quarter points in their Big 12 opener, a 27-12 loss to visiting Nebraska on Oct. 8.
“I think there is a lot of frustration because of some of the mistakes we’re making,” coach Gary Pinkel said.
Sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert has struggled since spraining his right ankle in the loss to the Cornhuskers but is expected to start.
Gabbert completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in Missouri’s first four games. He’s thrown five interceptions and one TD in the two losses while connecting at a 44.8 percent clip.
Gabbert was 22 of 44 for 325 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions against the Cowboys.
“I expect him to be better. Hopefully, he’ll be 100 percent this week,” Pinkel said. “He’s a pretty courageous guy, and it would be nice to get him healthy if we can.”
Texas quarterback and Heisman hopeful Colt McCoy is also expected to start despite a bruised right thumb. McCoy had a season-low 127 yards in last week’s win, but was 29 of 32 for 337 yards and two touchdowns in last season’s 56-31 win over the Tigers in Austin.
“It’s sore but it’s not going to keep me out. It’s football,” said McCoy, who’s expected to lose the nail on that finger.
Facing Missouri could also help the Longhorns’ slow starts to games this season. They’ve gone without an offensive touchdown in the first half twice this season and has scored 10 points or fewer in four games.
“We are not starting well. I can’t figure it out,” Brown said.
Texas outscored the Tigers 35-3 in the first half of last season’s win and boasts the nation’s top scoring offense (42.0 points per game). The Longhorns, who held Oklahoma to minus-16 yards, also have the No. 1 rushing defense— yielding only 35.8 yards per game.