You can question the run blocking or the play calling, but after this year's Kansas State and Texas A&M games, there should be no questioning Texas' desire to win. The team probably doesn't need added incentives, but there are several reasons why Texas must win a game that has no bearing on the national scene.
First of all, Texas is 0-for-the 21st century in the Cotton Bowl stadium. (Now, don't petty about when Millennium actually started. I don't care. This is Texas football, dammit!) And Texas football has not won in the Cotton Bowl since it came from behind to beat Oklahoma in 1999. Since then, Texas has lost to Arkansas and then three times to the Evil Empire by a combined score of 139-47. On the average, Texas has lost by an average of three touchdowns the last four times it set foot in the stadium. (The 2000 OU debacle contributed mightily to that stat).
The fact is not lost on Texas players who have unofficially dubbed the final days of 2002 as "Take Back Dallas" week. No graduating Longhorn senior knows what it's like to win in Dallas. Enough already. Texas needs to go into not only the 2003 season but, specifically, into the Oklahoma game knowing it has won in that same stadium just 10 months earlier.
One of the most renowned Darrell Royal-isms is that "trends are bunk; angry men win football games." You get the sense that the Burnt Orange is a group of "angry men" determined to reverse a nasty trend: namely, the Cotton Bowl losing skid that has as much to do with the first day of January as it does the second Saturday in October. Texas wants (and needs) to "take back Dallas" on Wednesday and maintain possession
Secondly, a Texas victory means consecutive 11-win seasons for the first time in school history. That would send a message (especially to recruits during this critical four-week stretch before Signing Day) that the program is at least "back" enough to where it will be prominent in the national championship conversation each season. Hate to say it, but anything that happened before 1990 is ancient history to a high school blue chip senior who is trying to decide between Texas and some other university. A Longhorn win means the program should finish no worse than No. 6 this year, and perhaps back-to-back Top Five finishes. That re-establishes Texas as the national program that it should be, rather than one where the interest is strictly regional.
Both Mack Brown and LSU head coach Nick Saban talked about how important winning a bowl game is to recruiting, particularly this one. Eighteen year-olds have a very myopic sense of history, and the publicity surge from any January bowl victory can sway a kid who remains a fence sitter.
The Tigers recruit heavily in Houston and Dallas. Outside of Texas, Louisiana is UT's most heavily recruited state, offensive coordinator Greg Davis said, not only because of its proximity but also because its caliber of high school talent level is better than most realize (see Major Applewhite, Greg Brown, Cole Pittman, Chase Pittman, Phillip Geiggar, Stevie Lee).
The difference between winning and losing this one is the difference between having a nearly-great season and an average season (by each school's standards).
"Last year Nick and his staff accomplished a lot and had a great year," Brown said. "They were SEC Champs and beat Illinois badly in the Sugar Bowl. Then they came back this year and they have one of the great defenses in college football, but they lost their quarterback (Matt Mauck). Most teams that lose their quarterback go into the tank and can't make it (Note: LSU did not go "into the tank" but they did go 3-3 following Mauck's injury at Florida, Oct. 12). But Nick's done a great job of keeping things going. He lost his running back (LaBrandon Toefield), he lost his quarterback and those guys have done such a great job coaching that they pulled it out and nearly went to their championship game again and are very deserving of being in the Cotton Bowl."