Texas vs. Nebraska. No, it doesn't bring the kind of tingles to your spine as say, the "Red River Shootout" might, but both are perennial powerhouses, both are ranked in the top 25 and for each, this game could bode either good or bad for their respective head coaches. In any game, there's always something to lose, but for this weekend's match-up, for some, it's do or die.
In February of any year, Mack Brown is Texas' favorite coach. That's when signing-day occurs and some of the best in the country that have yet to sign, ink their John Hancock on a letter of intent. That's also the day that everyone lauds Texas for once again garnering one of the best classes (if not the best) of prep All-Everythings, everyone of them potential stars.
Ok, then comes the regular season for the Texas Longhorn football team and unfortunately for Brown, he's been just as consistent there.
Lose to Oklahoma, choke against a team you were expected to beat and limp into the post-season wondering what in the world went wrong.
All that talent over so many years, surely the team could have won in spite of it's coaching, right? That's the question many have asked, those inquiries only increasing as Mack Brown's tenure endures.
Again though, come February when Texas once again signs that class of super-studs in the making, the local fan-base forgives, the smack-talking begins and until the cycle repeats itself, the Longhorns are rated as either predicted national champs, potential national champs or a team that has the talent to beat anyone around.
This year has been typical to what the Horns have done, but the stirrings are such that it's presumed that even another recruiting national title won't save Mack Brown this time around. It wasn't just the loss to Arkansas, but the absolute shellacking at the hands of Oklahoma was so convincingly embarrassing, that even fans wearing those rose-colored glasses can't help from closing their eyes in disgust.
Mack Brown could indeed be one game away from sealing his fate and this weekend could be the game.
This weekend is actually a good thing for Brown and company as unlike their record against the Sooners, Brown has had a pretty successful time against the Cornhuskers, at home and even in Lincoln. Against the Solich-coached team, Brown's group has gone 3-1 overall, the only loss coming in the 1999 regular season, while conversely, Texas dealt NU the first loss in Lincoln in almost 9 years, a country-leading home winning-streak sent into the category of Husker history.
Nebraska avenged that loss in the Big XII title game with a resounding 22-6 pasting of the Horns, but NU dropped the next game against Texas, 27-24 last year in Lincoln.
Despite last year's narrow win in which Nebraska was in it until a game-deciding interception by Jammal Lord sealed the fate of the Huskers and this year's resurgent Big Red team, the critics, bookmakers and just about everyone else don't give NU much of a chance down in Austin. And, why would they? Solich is 1-3 against Brown's teams, 2 of those losses actually coming at home.
This should be a gimmee.
I don't doubt that amongst the internet-going fans of Texas, there are those that will consider this game nothing more than a walk in the park. Texas simply has to show up and it's on to bigger and better things.
For the sake of that same fan-base, Mack Brown is expected to not take such a nonchalant attitude towards a game that is important for more reasons than helping to determine just what kind of bowl they attend.
He needs this game....badly.
If there has ever been a "must win" in Mack Brown's career, this is it and it's to keep that career going. Long is the list of articles that have been written about his teams year in and year out, being overrated and ultimately underachieving.
The loss to Oklahoma every year only illustrates Brown's inability to get over the hump, but the 65-13 humiliation at the hands of the Sooners this year hammers that point home that you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't have the coaches, well, then you are the Texas Longhorns.
I know the diehard Horn-followers would take umbrage with that statement, but I also know that there are some (more than some, actually) Texas fans that sit back, sigh a bit in acknowledgment and hope that next year is different.
It's not or at least, it wasn't this year and it wasn't the year before that. The only thing saving Mack Brown right now is finishing the season unscathed and that means, it starts down in Austin this weekend.
After last season, everyone all but wrote Nebraska off as having hit the start of their decline. No longer a part of the "elite", coach Frank Solich managed to drag the program down to depths not even comprehensible to most of the younger generation.
A season with less than 9 wins. A season that wasn't a winning one on top of that, the Big Red machine wasn't just not hitting on all cylinders, it went from a V-8 to the college football equivalent of a Briggs and Stratton.
Following the dramatic coaching changes that Solich put into place, Nebraska has came back with a vengeance. Though their offense sparks little conversation as to it's resurgence from the "glory days", the defense has overwhelmed almost all of it's competition.
Last year, against Texas, the "Blackshirt" secondary made Chris Simms look a little like what everyone had been calling him from the day he entered college. Tying a school-record for pass attempts (47) and throwing the ball for over 400 yards, Simms literally ate up the NU defense, especially in the second half.
Now, almost the same defense Simms faced last year is the number one school in the country in pass efficiency defense.
You think Mack Brown is nervous? He should be.
Even with NU's comeback of sorts, it's not like the Huskers match-up with this year's Texas Longhorns. But, that's the thing, nobody does. Except for maybe Oklahoma, nobody ever matches up with Texas. They have more speed, they have more talent and they have more of just about everything else. Hence, they should win, even if it's in spite of possible coaching deficiencies. The only problem with that is that the coaching deficiencies are such, that they can't win, even with the most talent of any team around.
Ironic, wouldn't you say? That Frank Solich brings a team that is considered not even to be a shadow of it's former self in respect to the talented teams from the 90s, should still be on the hot-seat sporting only one loss on the year. And, he brings that unit against a guy that has more talent than almost any other 2 Division 1-A teams combined, that team already with 2 losses to their name.
Make no mistake about it however, if there is pressure on anyone for this up-coming contest, it's not on Frank Solich. Most of his changes have already had such an effect, that Nebraska would have to lose the rest of their games for his job to be on the line. For Brown though, from now on, it's simply do or die.
Patience is at an end down in Austin. Once again, their national-title aspirations are done, the Horns having taken even a hint at a Big XII title opportunity right out of their hands, putting it into another, their destiny totally out of their control.
They flopped....again. Mack Brown lost to Oklahoma....again. They choked against someone they were supposed to beat.....again. If Texas loses to Nebraska, there won't be anymore "agains" for Mack Brown.
Not even a recruiting title in February will save him this time.
This time, it's a "must-win" for Mack.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619