AUSTIN, Texas — In February 2010, the Texas Longhorns signed a group of recruits ranked among the best classes in the nation. They were supposed to be the next group chasing Big 12 and national championships at a powerhouse program.
Many of them will play their final home game Thanksgiving night against Texas Tech having come nowhere close to what was expected over the past four seasons.
Since losing to Alabama in the 2009 season championship game, Texas is 29-19 overall, with a 17-16 mark in the Big 12 without a conference title. Against ranked teams, the Longhorns are 4-13 over that span. Check that against the Crimson Tide, which is 46-5 over the same time period and in position to play for its third straight national title.
“To their credit, they would tell you they haven’t accomplished what teams at Texas want to accomplish,” coach Mack Brown said of his seniors. “This year was a year we anticipated we had a chance to win every game. It hasn’t gone that way ... A lot of teams would have folded after a 1-2 start. They stepped up with their leadership. I’m really proud of them.”
The Texas seniors still have one last chance to win a league title if the Longhorns (7-3, 6-1 Big 12) beat Texas Tech (7-4, 4-4) and then Baylor on Dec. 7. Win those games, hope Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma, and Texas can claim its first league crown since 2009 and just the third in Brown’s 16 seasons.
“I came to Texas to win the Big 12, to do great things here,” senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “That’s what we’re fighting for.”
Texas Tech is trying to end a losing skid that has spoiled a tremendous start under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury. The Red Raiders were 7-0 and ranked No. 10 before spiraling into a four-game losing streak punctuated by miserable defense. Texas Tech has surrendered an average of 50 points during the losses.
“We kind of lost our swagger, I feel like, the last four weeks,” Red Raiders senior defensive lineman Kerry Hyder said.
Here’s five things to watch when Texas and Texas Tech play on Thursday night:
EMOTION: Who will bring the most energy to a holiday night game? For generations, Thanksgiving weekend was Texas vs. Texas A&M. Now that the Aggies are in the SEC and off the schedule for the foreseeable future, the Longhorns are trying to recapture the emotions of a rivalry game. It didn’t work last year when a flat Texas team lost to TCU in front of a flat home crowd. If the Red Raiders take an early lead, Texas may never recover. Texas Tech is playing its first Thanksgiving game in school history.
THE COACHES: Speculation over Brown’s future has hung over the Longhorns all season. It calmed down during the Longhorns’ six-game win streak, then started again with an ugly home loss to Oklahoma State. If this really is Brown’s last season, Thursday night will be the final home game for the coach who delivered a national title in 2005.
“It is a tough deal for him in that I don’t think people remember where they were at before he got there and what he’s done for that program,” said Kingsbury, whose first season in Lubbock has to be considered a success despite the losing skid.
BIG-PLAY TEXAS: Texas has scored 11 touchdowns on plays of 45 yards or longer and spread the production among eight different players. The Red Raiders have shown a tendency to give up the big score. Texas Tech opponents have seven scoring runs or pass plays of 35 yards or longer, as well as an interception return and punt return for scores.
QUARTERBACKS: After guiding Texas to a 6-0 start in Big 12 play, senior Case McCoy stumbled badly against Oklahoma State with three turnovers. Thursday night will be the last home game in the McCoy era at Texas. Case’s older brother Colt got his first start the Longhorns at home against North Texas on Sept. 2, 2006. Kingsbury said he won’t name a starter until Thursday. The Red Raiders have split starts between freshmen Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield and now Kingsbury says previously injured sophomore Michael Brewer could also be in the mix this week. Webb and Mayfield both have put up big numbers in the nation’s No. 1 passing offense that averages 400.2 yards per game. Mayfield and Brewer are from Lake Travis, just outside of Austin and neither was recruited by Texas.
MALCOLM BROWN: He’s become the Longhorns’ go-to back after a season-ending injury to leading rusher Johnathan Gray. Brown had a team-high nine touchdowns but averaged just 2.9 yards in the loss to Oklahoma State. Texas Tech has surrendered an average of 297 yards rushing the last four games and if they can’t slow down Brown, they probably can’t win.