Successful Season, But Title Decided In October

The Texas Longhorns are about to finish out their best season in 21 years.

After a fifth straight loss in October to Oklahoma, an experience that would prove devastating to many football teams and programs (and coaching staffs) the Longhorns have again accomplished the unlikely feat of not losing another game. I don't expect a team as mentally tough as this to fold in the final game of the year with the possibility of a BCS bowl, finally, so close. A&M isn't going to beat Texas. Not this year.

What Mack Brown does to get his team focused on the next game, every year, is really an astonishing accomplishment. Whether it’s a humiliating thumping or a tight game, one play here, one play there, his guys show up after OU and don’t look back. They don’t track this kind of stuff, but I wonder if anything like it has ever happened before? It’s a tremendous compliment to Brown, albeit a backhanded one, that he can pull this trick off. The reign of Prince John seems like an awfully long time ago.

Getting his teams to perform at these extraordinarily high levels, year after year, elevates him past the levels of just very good. He’s close to as good as it gets and that’s not a bad place to be. The guy is the perfect coach for UT.

Unlucky for Brown, he’s had the misfortune to share his time out in the ball yard with Bob Stoops, a coach just a little bit better and a little bit smarter and maybe a little bit tougher. Just as Malone, Stockton, Ewing and Barkley had the bad luck for their great primes to overlap with a guy in Chicago who was a little bit better, a little bit smarter and a little bit tougher. Of course, those guys are all gone now and the books are closed out. Brown and Stoops will be coaching against each other for a long time. Their record is far from set. Still, Brown needs to learn a lesson, one it’s become increasingly obvious Bob Stoops figured out a long time ago.

Texas football seasons have become shockingly redundant. They remind me of two popular epics, one from fifties television and the other from the wide screen. The obvious movie is Groundhog Day. Orangebloods must feel like they're reliving the same season, over and over and…

The television show was a popular western about an affable gambler who always won. He may not have been a faster draw, but he was smarter and better. It was called Maverick. Maverick had stuff figured out in advance. Maverick was all about taking a chance.

Bob Stoops understood, probably the day he got the job, the game in Dallas was, most definitely, not just another game. And Stoops was not thinking about the whoop-de-do interstate rivalry thing. Stoops is a more global thinker than that. He looked at the Big 12 South and divined, correctly, Texas was the key to annual shots at national championships. He knew Brown could coach and he knew Brown could recruit. But so could he. Call it a tie. He needed to think beyond the conventional.

So Stoops went against the tried and usually true formula about not looking ahead. He understood a win in the early fall against Texas was everything. He accepted both teams would probably meet in the Cotton Bowl undefeated. He knew the odds of another loss for both teams, as the season inexorably took its toll, were good. He also knew how good his teams were. Two losses, after taking care of Texas, were unlikely. He wasn’t going to let that happen.

Most important was this implicit verdict: whoever won in Dallas actually won two games that day. And vice versa. UT leaves the Cotton Bowl with a loss. Even if the Horns don’t lose another game, not that likely, and his team suffers a loss along the way, the tie break goes to OU. Texas is left to ponder another wasted season on the way to the UT/Holiday Bowl. Thinking this steady pattern is just coincidence or good fortune is delusional.

I don’t think Oklahoma was a fundamentally better football team - in any of the past four years - than Texas. But Stoops is smarter. Brown has to understand, maybe he’s finally getting it, that the South Championship and thus the Big 12 Championship, ergo, the only legit shot at a national title, will always be decided in early October in Dallas. All roads to glory must, alas, pass though SoonerLand.

It’s not just another game. It’s the season.

For ten years Andy Cotton wrote the Coach's Corner for the Austin Chronicle, where he was voted Austin's Best Sportswriter three times and was runner up twice. During his tenure at the Chronicle he covered all the major sports including tennis, golf, major league baseball, the NBA and, of course, the University of Texas. He has authored a book on the mini-tours of golf called It's Not Fun… Life Below the Radar of the PGA Tour.

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