This Time, Eyes of Texas on A&M

Texas' in-state rivalry game against Texas A&M has been virtually an afterthought the past couple of seasons for a Longhorn team preoccupied with BCS style-points. Now, Texas coach Mack Brown insists his squad has only the Aggies in mind when the programs collide for the 113th time Friday morning.

An upset loss at Kansas State has a way of getting your attention.

"Our focus is totally on A&M," Brown said. "There is no game right now other than A&M. There was too much talk about the Big 12 game before the Kansas State game. And we didn't play as well as we wanted to against A&M last year because there was a lot of talk about No. 1 versus No. 2 (USC, Texas) and the conference championship and the national championship. Our total focus is on A&M Friday."

Texas was nearly a three-touchdown favorite against the Aggies in 2005, but trailed 22-21 early in the third quarter. The Horns responded with an 80-yard TD drive before blocking a punt for a TD. The Horns added a fourth-quarter FG to seal a 40-29 win. By QB Vince Young's lofty standards, it was a sub-par afternoon, going 13-of-24 passing for 162 yards. Other than Ohio State and USC, A&M played Texas tougher than any other opponent during the national championship season.

There's no denying that the season-ending rivalry has lost some of its luster among the current herd of Horns. Texas is 7-1 against Texas A&M during Brown's tenure, and it's been five years since the Aggies entered this ballgame as a nationally-ranked team. The last time both squads were nationally ranked was when No. 5 Texas worked its way past No. 22 A&M, 21-7, on a windy, sun-splashed afternoon in College Station in 2001. Yet, the Aggies are currently on the cusp of national recognition, checking in at No. 27 in this week's Associated Press poll. And Friday's match-up marks the first time both teams enter with at least eight wins since 1995.

Coaches hope the annual Aggie Supper, a player-only affair held Sunday evening, went a long way towards re-instilling the significance of the ancient rivalry. On hand were former Longhorns Wane McGarity, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Humphrey.

"Because we didn't play as well as we wanted to last year, and because there's been so much talk about things other than the A&M game the last couple of years, we wanted the players to go back and enjoy this game and get into this game," Brown said. "We want them to appreciate the history of the game again and make sure they understand the importance of it and not just talk about what you get by winning it. It's a game you need to win because it's a rival game and because of all the things that are important in this state because of that game. Legacies are built in that game, just like the OU game. Everybody talks so much about the BCS that we've gotten away from enjoying that (A&M) game and playing just that week."

The Horns are still the odds-on favorite to win the Big 12 Conference title and secure a Fiesta Bowl berth. It's just that the past couple of seasons, talk of a national championship (2005) and the possibility of a first-ever BCS bowl (2004) siphoned most of the interest among Longhorn fans and national media away from college football's third-most played rivalry game.

Texas saw its Big 12 record 21-game conference winning streak snapped at Kansas State, but two streaks remain in tact: the Horns have not lost to the Aggies, nor have they suffered consecutive losses, this millennium. More than one Longhorn spoke of the K-State loss in terms of a wake-up call, including LT Tony Hills.

"Kansas State made us understand that any team can win and records don't matter," Hills said. "We have to put that game behind us, learn from our mistakes, and go into the A&M game knowing that there are a lot of things riding on this game. But, we don't want to focus on those things, like winning the Big 12 Championship, but to focus on sending the seniors out with a win against A&M. That's the most important thing for the underclassmen right now."

A group of 26 seniors, including five offensive and five defensive starters, will suit up for their last home game at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Texas has not lost on Senior Day during Brown's previous eight years in Austin. The class has helped Texas post a 43-6 record during their watch and has a chance to eclipse the school record 45 wins set just last season.

"The first goal is to win the Big 12," Hills said, "and then you let the chips fall where they may. For this team to go through what we've gone through, as far as injuries, and for us to be here with a chance of winning the Big 12 that's a credit to these guys and their hard work. We've got one more (home) game with the seniors. The focus of this week is playing A&M and sending those seniors out with a win."


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