Favored Horns Know Respect Must Be Earned

Texas will beat Oklahoma this year and go on to win the Big 12 Conference title. At least that's the consensus of the media covering league play. So, how well are the Longhorns living with the label of the heavy favorite?

LDT Rodrique Wright says it looks good on paper but he understands that Texas will be considered a paper tiger if it falls to Oklahoma for the sixth straight season.

"It's an honor to hear that and see it on paper," Wright acknowledged, "but the game is going to have to be won in October. It's great to hear that you're on top but it's not real because you're sitting on five losses (to Oklahoma) and we still haven't been in a Big 12 Championship in four years. It has to be done on the field; we know that."

Unfortunately, Wright knows that from recent history. The Horns were the preseason conference favorites in 2000, 2001 and 2002 before folks learned to quit betting against OU coach Bob Stoops the second Saturday in October. Now, media pundits are looking at the fact that Texas returns 17 starters from a Rose Bowl championship while the Sooners are looking to replace eight offensive starters, including 2003 Heisman winning QB Jason White, Outland Trophy winning OT Jammal Brown and its two top receivers in Mark Clayton and Mark Bradley.

Though the Sooners return sensational RB Adrian Peterson (who ran for 225 yards against Texas last year), some have suggested that if head coach Mack Brown doesn't reverse the skid against OU this season, he never will. Brown maintains that preseason predictions are for fans and media, and that polls should not be released until October. Instead, predictions are indicative of how you finished the previous season as well as the high regard with which your program is held, Brown said.

"It means respect, (but) it means nothing beyond that," Brown said. "I understand that it opens you up for more criticism if you don't produce. None of that's important; our winning all the games is (important)."

Obviously, the marquee game this season (not just for Texas but for all of collegiate football) is the highly anticipated, first-ever meeting between Texas and Ohio State on September 10.

"One thing that will happen that day is all eyes of college football will be on that ABC game at night," Brown said. "We're all trying to figure out who's best, and who's the best league, and all these guys from regions fight all the time, and one game doesn't determine that, but there will be a lot of discussion over that game."

The winner of that one will be an early favorite to face USC in the BCS title game; the loser will not be eliminated from BCS contention (and certainly not from the championship hunt in their respective leagues) but there's no margin for error in a schedule that looms with potential landmines.

"Our players understand we've got some really tough games," Brown said. "Our players learned a critical lesson at Kansas last year. Kansas was our second toughest game and nobody thought it would be a game at the first of the season. So, you better be careful. Everybody's got a chance if you don't play well and especially if you don't play with emotion. Missouri could beat us before OU and Colorado could beat us after OU, so we've got all kinds of potholes on that schedule. We better be really good and really tough mentally to make it through this schedule unscathed."

If Texas can actually make it past the second Saturday of October with nothing but W's, Austin will become the college football capital of the world as long as the team keeps winning. (Southern Cal would likely still be atop the polls, but the national media would direct its collective eyes upon the Horns in a way it has not done since the program went undefeated during the 1983 regular season).

"I think we'll be more of a target as we run through the schedule," Wright said. " As a player, rankings don't really mean much. If you play a team ranked higher than you, it adds to the hype and it does make you a little more excited to play them. At the same time, it's won on the field."

Players officially report next week. The first practice of the 2005 season is set for August 7.

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