Think back to the situation Texas was in going into its game against TCU last year.
The Longhorns had won four in a row since being demolished by Oklahoma for the second straight season. At 8-2, Texas had an outside chance at winning the Big 12. If it beat TCU on Thanksgiving and upset Big 12 leader Kansas State in Manhattan in its regular season finale, the Longhorns would win the conference championship if Oklahoma State could take down Oklahoma.
Instead, Texas, a seven-point favorite, fell at home to the Horned Frogs and were crushed by the Wildcats the following weekend. The Longhorns settled for an Alamo Bowl victory over Oregon State.
“We were on a roll last year,” head coach Mack Brown recalled. “This [loss to TCU] knocked us out of a lot things that we were planning on accomplishing last year. So this is an important game for us.”
Fast forward to this year and Texas is in a very similar spot: beat TCU or have virtually no chance of winning the Big 12. After losing two of their first three games, the only way the Longhorns can salvage their season is by winning the conference. They took a major step toward accomplishing that goal by dominating Oklahoma two weeks ago but all that will be in vain if they can’t triumph over TCU. But if they lose, the Longhorns will prove that they’re not the team they’ve said they are all season long.
The two teams that squared off in Austin last Thanksgiving are essentially the same ones that will face each other in Fort Worth this weekend. Texas returned an FBS-best 19 starters this year while TCU was not far behind with 15 returning starters.
“There are a lot of guys whose name ring a bell that you kind of wish would’ve been gone,” senior guard Mason Walters said. “But they’re that same team and so are we. It’ll be a good chance to see who has improved more in a year. But I think teams do tend to change a bit over a year. It’s just that the names stay the same.”
Texas and TCU are expected to play another close game this year. The Horned Frogs are two-point favorites. If they were playing the Longhorns at a neutral site, the game might be a pick ‘em.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “It’s very similar but those guys have gotten better. Those guys have talented receivers, talented running backs. [Sophomore quarterback Trevone] Boykin’s good. Their offensive line is good as well. We’ve got to come play.”
Texas is not as far in its season as it was when it lost to TCU last year. But if the Longhorns lose to the Horned Frogs again this season, it will be a devastating blow to their chances to win the Big 12 – the one goal keeping them motivated.
With its last three regular season contests against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor – all ranked teams and the last two in the Top 10 of the first BCS standings – this week’s game against TCU is a must-win.
Texas can win the Big 12 with another loss. But not if that loss is to TCU.