When ESPN and the University of Texas partnered to create the Longhorn Network, the idea was to give viewers a 24-hour look into the world of one of the nation’s biggest and most successful athletic departments.
Right now, they are getting a soap opera.
The football team is coming off back-to-back humiliating losses, players are adjusting to their second defensive coordinator of the season, longtime coach Mack Brown is fighting for his job and one news outlet is reporting athletic director DeLoss Dodds will step down at the end of the year.
Through it all, Brown remains positive. He thinks the Longhorns can win the Big 12. Dodds says he isn’t going anywhere.
Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of the Longhorns.
“We have to continue to pound on the positives and let them understand we aren’t as far away as it looks after three weeks,” Brown said. “You’ve got to believe in your team. I made a statement a few years ago when we were struggling that I’m not ever going to make again. These kids are really trying. These coaches are really trying. Sometimes I think we try too hard. I see it. It’s still there. We have had a perfect storm of injuries. We have had a lot of tough luck in the last two weeks.
“Our goal was to win the Big 12 championship. We still have a chance to do that. It starts on Saturday.”
That 7 p.m. game against Kansas State certainly adds intrigue to the current state of affairs. If Texas has any chance of getting back on track it will have to defeat a K-State team that has become a nemesis for the Longhorns. Not only have the Wildcats beaten Texas five straight times since 2006, they are the only Big 12 team to hold an overall series lead over the Longhorns.
When the streak began, K-State fans poured onto the field to celebrate a 45-42 upset. Last year, K-State thumped Texas 42-24 to clinch a share of the Big 12 championship and fans once again celebrated long into the night. But the victory was expected.
“It’s one of those things that’s unanswerable in sports,” Brown said when asked to explain the streak. “... Some teams seem to match up better than others. They get the confidence that whatever happens we’re going to win the game. We got to flip that switch this weekend.”
That won’t be easy. In recent years, K-State has been the stronger program.
Texas has fallen on mediocre times since reaching the 2009 BCS championship game. It has gone 23-18 since. Over that same span, K-State is 30-12. Other teams have also passed Texas. Rival Oklahoma is 35-8 and defeated Texas three straight times. Former rival Texas A&M is 29-13 and soared in the SEC. Texas Tech is 24-17. Baylor is 27-14. The stats indicate Texas, which won a national championship in 2005 and has always been considered a powerhouse, is no longer the premier football team in its state or conference.
No wonder fans booed Brown at home last week.
“I can’t tell you what he is going through, but I can tell you that he is a very talented and quality leader and very good with young people,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “His background and history speak for itself. ... We have all been through it one time or another, and he will work his way out of it. I don’t have any doubt about that.”
Still, K-State could be catching Texas at the right time. The Longhorns are dealing with a losing streak, off-field issues and injuries. Starting quarterback David Ash (concussion) might not play, and receiver Daje Johnson has already been ruled out.
Not that Snyder thinks much about that combination.
“We have to be careful and not get caught up on who we are playing,” Snyder said. “Instead, we need to focus on ourselves. We continue to try to improve and address correcting the mistakes that we have made — and there are a plethora of those that have to get corrected — and we just have to keep working it. I hope that our players’ focus is there going into the ballgame.”
That seems to be the case. Senior linebacker Tre Walker gave the Longhorns bulletin-board material at Big 12 media days in July when he said they “laid down” in last year’s game. But he has since apologized to Brown, and Brown has described him as “a good young man.”
This week, when players were asked about Texas, many claimed to be unaware of its struggles.
“We are not really worried about that,” junior receiver Tyler Lockett said. “You can look at any team that struggled against one team and all of a sudden they come back and play great against another team. So I think the biggest thing is not looking at any of the things that has happened at Texas in the past and just preparing ourselves for this week, just going in there and giving it our all. We have to be tougher than Texas and outplay Texas, because we know they are going to come at us.”
Austin is currently be home to one of college football’s biggest soap operas. K-State is trying not to get caught up in it.
“It is going to be a grudge match, a lot of salty heads,” senior left tackle Cornelius Lucas said. “I have looked in at them recently, but I try not to focus too much on that. We have beaten them five times in a row, but you can’t really put much into that either, because it’s the past. It should be a really physical game and a really good game.”