Texas’ players and coaches insist their collective focus will be on the next game, not the one that’s potentially looming a little further down the road.
With the BCS title game in their sights, the third-ranked Longhorns look to claim their first conference title in four years when they face No. 21 Nebraska on Saturday night in the Big 12 Championship game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The last time Texas (12-0, 8-0) played for a Big 12 title, it pounded Colorado 70-3 in 2005. Behind the play of quarterback Vince Young, the Longhorns then upset top-ranked Southern California 41-38 in the BCS title game in Pasadena, Calif.
Four years later, the Big 12 South champs again have a chance to head to Pasadena for a shot at the BCS title, but first must record a fifth straight victory over North champion Nebraska (9-3, 6-2). A win Saturday means the Longhorns will likely earn the right to face either No. 1 Florida or second-ranked Alabama in the national championship game on Jan. 7 at the Rose Bowl.
“I don’t think they’ll be thinking about anything other than winning the Big 12 Championship,” conference coach of the year Mack Brown said of Texas’ attitude. “That’s all they’re thinking about. I promise you they’re not thinking about anything beyond Saturday night.”
His players are whistling the same tune, especially after outlasting rival Texas A&M 49-39 on the road Thanksgiving night to remain undefeated.
“We felt like if we could get to this point we would have the chance to accomplish a lot of things,” senior quarterback Colt McCoy said. “We have handled our business each week so far this year. It’s going to be tough, but we are in the position that we want to be in. We have one more week.”
McCoy’s Heisman Trophy resume got a little more impressive after he passed for 304 yards and ran for a career-high 175 - including a 65-yard TD - on 18 carries against the Aggies.
“I think I played (the Heisman Trophy winner),” A&M defensive back Jordan Pugh said of last year’s Heisman runner-up. “After the game, I told him to go get a championship, a Big 12 and national championship.”
The Longhorns are in position to do both thanks to McCoy, who’s passed for 1,791 yards and 18 touchdowns with two interceptions in his last five contests. His 3,328 total passing yards this season ranks fourth in Texas history.
While McCoy has thrown for 401 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a pair of wins over Nebraska, he knows the conference’s top offense - averaging 43.0 points per game - could face a stiff challenge versus a Cornhuskers’ defense that’s allowing a league-low 11.1 points per contest.
“They have great players all across the board on defense, so we’re going to have to be extremely prepared,” said standout receiver Jordan Shipley, who’s caught a career-high 99 passes for 1,292 yards and 11 TDs for the Longhorns this season.
The difference, however, could be Texas’ defense which ranks first in the Big 12 allowing 263.2 yards per game, but gave up a season-high 532 to Texas A&M. The Longhorns were picked apart by Aggies junior Jerrod Johnson, who threw for 342 yards with four touchdowns and rushed for 97.
Brown believes his unit is poised to bounce back.
“They will play their tails off,” he said. “They were mad. They are prideful kids. They were happy we won but they know it was not good.”
Though Nebraska ranks 11th in total offense (334.7 yards per game) and doesn’t have a game-breaker like Johnson, the Cornhuskers are averaging 25.6 points per game and have won five in a row heading into this contest.
Junior Roy Helu has paced the Cornhuskers, rushing for 1,111 yards and 10 touchdowns. Talented freshman Rex Burkhead ran for a career-high 100 yards and a TD on 18 carries in a 28-20 win at Colorado last Friday.
Two years after finishing 5-7 in Bill Callahan’s final season as coach, Bo Pelini has guided Nebraska to consecutive nine-win seasons and an upset away from earning its first league title since last beating Texas 22-6 in the 1999 Big 12 championship game.
“Our best football is still out there to be played,” Pelini said. “At times we’re playing really well, other times we’re not as consistent. We’ve been able to rise up and get that done, and we need to continue to do that.
“I came in here wanting to win football games and compete for championships. We have a chance to compete for one Saturday night.”
This is the first meeting between the teams since the Longhorns won 28-25 at home Oct. 27, 2007.