After three weeks, Texas sat at 1-2 with blowout losses to BYU and Ole Miss and very few (if any) indicators that the Longhorns would be able to turn the ship around. Four conference games later, Texas is 5-2, including a perfect 4-0 mark in the Big 12 Conference, and Texas coach Mack Brown is fielding questions about whether it's a single-elimination tournament the rest of the way for the Big 12 crown.
"No, because I feel like there could be a one-loss team win this league so it is going to be a great five weeks," Brown said. "This league is setting up to be fun to watch here at the end. Everybody is about to start running into each other here and it is going to be exciting games here each week. Fun finish."
It now looks like that fun finish could include the Longhorns at or near the top of the conference standings, a position that didn't just seem inconceivable after the poor start, but even more so after the 'Horns lost starting quarterback David Ash for an extended period of time after his second occurrence of a head injury, suffered against Kansas State.
Case McCoy has handled the team well in Ash's absence, but just how close is the junior to making a return?
"We talked to our trainers long and hard yesterday about David Ash and where he is moving forward," Brown said. "David is not having symptoms but at the same time they will not let him be at practice yet and they will not let him practice, obviously, until at least maybe next week. What we're seeing is that he hasn't done anything for four weeks, he's lost about 10 pounds, he's not in football playing shape.
"He threw a ball a little bit this weekend so even when he gets released and gets back, we're not sure that he'll be ready to play because the way I understand it, they will release him to practice but they will not release him to play," Brown said. "With a quarterback it's hard to see when you let him go back in because you're not going to hit him during practice. That's the other reason right now with the uncertainty with five games left, we need Tyrone Swoopes playing and being in that role so we can have two quarterbacks ready to go."
Brown said Ash hasn't yet been ruled out for the West Virginia game.
"No, they have to have a full week without any symptoms before they will let him return to practice," Brown said. "What I heard this morning is that that doesn't mean they'll let him return to full practice. They may have him start and do 20 minutes of practice on the first day, 30 the next. If that is the case, then he probably would not be able to play that weekend."
Brown said a medical redshirt was also still on the table, but said that wasn't up to the coaching staff.
"He can be able, available to apply for a medical until he is cleared to play, and I wasn't clear on that before," Brown said. "They can let him return to practice but not clear him to play as well. That's totally up to the doctors. There's really only one thing I wasn't sure of. He can't return to practice until he is released to play in the ball games. He still qualifies for a medical redshirt."
While Ash's season-long status is up in the air, Case McCoy's is not. He'll lead Texas against Kansas on Saturday in a game that looks to be a mismatch on paper, though the Jayhawks nearly beat the 'Horns in Lawrence a year ago.
"There's a number of things that you do," Brown said. "You try to play to a standard and you play to the standard that we've played the last two weeks. But also, you play to that standard of toughness and energy, but you've got a lot of things you can fix. So number one, we've got to worry about us first. There are a lot of things that we need to get better to reach our ultimate goals at the end. Secondly, you only have to look at last year's game, same team, same players.
"You have to look at last year's game just to see that we were seconds away from losing the game," Brown said. "Our players have also had two games where they didn't play well so we don't have any room for error here at the end. We've got to play well each week."