Royal-Memorial Stadium is the site of the first Top 10 matchup between conference foes since Labor Day, 1980. ESPN College GameDay is in town. So is Cold Pizza (If you've never heard of the show then, chances are, your kids could tell you all about it). But the Big 12's biggest show this season -- bigger than the conference title game set for December 3 at Houston's Reliant Stadium -- is slated for 2:30 p.m. on an ABC national telecast.
Thumping Oklahoma was a foregone conclusion in the eyes of every Longhorn willing to speak candidly. At Ohio State, you just wanted to win. The one thing that has been a constant in every Longhorn game, however, has been the effort.
"We've answered every bell," Mack Brown said. "They came out and played hard against Rice after Ohio State. There were questions that they would play hard after Oklahoma. I thought they played as hard Saturday as I've ever seen them since we've been here. They seem to be embracing the 6-0 (record)."
There's no need to rehash Tech's garish offensive stats in this space. The Red Raiders break a passing record (whether school, Big 12 or NCAA) every time they step on the field. Two words: Gene Chizik.
Texas' Co-Defensive Coordinator may be the finest defensive coach to have graced the Forty Acres since the glory days of Mike Campbell. Chizik will be a fond memory in a year or two but his unit (surrendering just 240 ypg) is the deepest, hardest-hitting and most fundamentally sound Longhorn D since the star-studded 1983 team held opponents to 212 ypg and was largely responsible for Texas posting an 11-0 regular season.
Chizik is the reason Texas fans should thoroughly enjoy Saturday's game and quit worrying about Tech's inflated stats that have happened at the expense of two Division-II programs and two lower-echelon conference squads (Kansas, Kansas State). Wins at Nebraska aren't as impressive as they used to be, and if Cornhusker nose tackle Le Kevin Smith takes a knee following his late INT against Tech, ESPN's College GameDay would probably be spending this weekend in Tuscaloosa.
Frankly, it's a sad commentary that a Big 12 program can schedule the likes of Florida International, Sam Houston State and Indiana State and still be a BCS No. 7. While Longhorn coaches delivered the well-choreographed spin about Tech being a legitimate Top Ten team, one high-profile Longhorn starter (speaking anonymously) said, "Look at who they've played."
This is not to say Tech can't come into Austin and win for the first time during the Mack Brown era and for just the sixth time in 21 attempts. The Horns have shown the potential for shooting themselves in the foot (with penalties, turnovers) while Tech, if given too much help from their hosts, has the firepower to spring the upset. I expect the Red Raiders to run the table following this weekend and play Florida in the Cotton Bowl.
Just as I expect Texas to play its most complete game of the season. Texas 51, Texas Tech 20.
Pearle -- After Texas Tech routed Cal last December in the Holiday Bowl, shutting the whining left-coasters up after all of their Rose Bowl snub talk, I actually became a bit of a Red Raider fan. It was good to see a Texas team beat the smack out of the Pac-10 number two and do it with ease, especially since the Horns had routed these same Raiders by 30 points.
And let's face it -- Tech is fun to watch, at least in my opinion. If they're on the tube, I always like to tune in and see what manner of zaniness is taking place, how many hundred yards passing they have by the second quarter, what formerly proud program, a la Nebraska, Kansas State, Cal, etc, is getting totally humiliated by Tech's first year quarterback du jour.
And they do it with guys you've never heard of -- any of you recruitniks out there remember the name Joel Filani during recruiting? The Phoenix, AZ receiver signed with Tech the same year Texas signed a much higher-ranked recruit -- what was his name? -- Marquis Johnson out of Illinois. Or how bout quarterback Cody Hodges? Hodges camped at Oklahoma, Tech and A&M in high school, but only got an offer from the Raiders of those three, while considering other schools like Wyoming and UTEP.
Point is, Mike Leach has been able to take good-but-not-blue chip high school football players who did not get an offer from the likes of Texas and OU and put them in a system that allows them to play at a near-spectacular level at times. You may despise Leach for his ugly attempts at running up the score on beaten opponents, but you have to give him credit for putting Tech on the map. I mean, man, can you believe Texas Tech is ranked in the top 10 right now? I can't remember that ever happening. And after beating Cal in the Holiday, then going into Lincoln and knocking off an improving Nebraska team to go along with their rout of Kansas State, I'm not prepared to say the Raiders are undeserving of their high ranking. Sure they played a ridiculous non-conference slate, but many teams do. Fact is, I doubt there are too many teams in the country who would relish the prospect of going up against the Red Raiders -- just ask Jeff Tedford.
But enough of the props for Tech. Texas is also richly deserving of its number two ranking and, after watching USC squirrel out to beat Notre Dame last weekend, who's to say Texas shouldn't be number one? And I certainly think Texas is better than Tech. While statistically, Texas' offense is comparable to Tech's, with Tech leading the nation in scoring offense while Texas is fourth, the Horn defense, ranked third nationally in total D compared to Tech which is ranked 18th, I believe is far superior to Tech's. The Raiders have certainly improved on defense this season, but the Texas defense has become a dominating force and I think will be the difference in this game.
Cody Hodges might want to phone Rhett Bomar and Joel Klatt to find out what kind of liniments they used post-game Texas; those dudes got battered and bruised and you can bet Hodges will too Saturday afternoon. Texas has size and speed in its front four and a fast, experienced secondary. Aaron Harris at Mike is smart as well as physical. Texas can generate pressure using its line alone, allowing additional DBs and LBs to hang back and clog the passing lanes. As explosive as Tech is offensively, I like Texas' chances to contain them, certainly enough for Vince Young to get on a roll.
I see the Raiders getting some points in this game, but I like Texas to win handily. In a loud, raucous, sun-splashed Royal-Memorial Stadium Saturday, Texas will throw a knock-out punch that knocks the Raiders from the top 10. Make it Texas 45, Texas Tech 27.
Ross -- Before I get started on this year's pick, let me get a mea culpa out of the way from last year. Yes, I picked Texas Tech to beat the Horns in Lubbock. Texas was coming off two relatively dreadful performances (vs. Oklahoma and Missouri) and the Red Raiders had smoked Nebraska before an off week to prepare for their next State U conquest. The odds-makers even installed Tech as the favorite. But behind the scenes, the Horns were becoming a different team from the one that took the field in Dallas and in Austin the previous two weeks. And they showed it on the South Plains that crisp October evening by ambushing the Red Raiders. I was wrong in my prediction last year, but I've been a believer ever since, and I see no reason to doubt heading into this Saturday's showdown at DKR.
It's not that I think Texas is infallible -- the usual caveats apply: turnovers and special teams disasters are great equalizers -- but stack these two teams up side-by-side and there's really no comparison. One is solid to spectacular at just about every position, while the other is a great system team that can crush out-manned opponents, but when faced with even equal athletes (see Nebraska), it's a struggle. And make no mistake, the athletes in this one aren't equal. Sure, there are several guys on the Tech squad that would look good in the Orange and White (including Dwayne Slay and Joel Filani), but from a physical standpoint, the Horns faced a tougher team last weekend, and we saw how easily this Longhorn bunch dispatched with the Buffaloes.
The unique nature of the Red Raider attack makes their offense more dangerous, but a well-coached and -schemed, fast and deep defense simply doesn't wilt like the Indiana States of the college football world. Gene Chizik's group is that kind of defense. The other HUGE difference in what Tech will see Saturday vs. what it's faced and beat so far is an offense capable of both explosive plays and sustained drives, capable of physical and finesse, capable of championship-level run and pass. The Raiders have put up some pretty good defensive numbers so far. But so had Ohio State, Oklahoma (against the run) and Colorado (against the run). The Texas offense will move the ball, the UT D will slow and often completely stop Cody Hodges and Co., and as the game wears on, the Tech defenders will wear out. Which in turn keeps the Longhorn offense on the field longer, which keeps the Air Raider offense off the field.
It's a vicious circle, but one that Tech has yet to face, and might not face again this season given the struggling Big 12. None of this is said to demean the Red Raiders as a team. They're pretty good, perhaps one of the 15 best in the country and very probably the second-best team in the Big 12. But this year, Texas is simply on another plane. The Horns are not only a great team in almost all respects, they have a great group of veteran leaders on the field (Vince Young, David Thomas, Aaron Harris, Michael Huff, to name a few) that will not allow a loss of focus (at key times) and a coaching staff that now trusts its players' abilities and lets them loose to win ballgames. And that's just what those players will do Saturday. Texas 49, Texas Tech 24.