Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
COLUMBIA, Mo. –- Texas served notice to the rest of the Big 12 Saturday night.
The Longhorns are pointing to their first Big 12 title since 2005. If they play like they did Saturday night, it will be the Big 12 championship game and beyond – like a trip to Pasadena for the BCS title game next Jan. 7.
A convincing 41-7 victory over Missouri Saturday night was the No. 3 Longhorns’ most complete performance of the season.
They took apart the two-time defending Big 12 North title game participant on their home field from the opening kickoff, blowing the game open by scoring on four of their first five possessions.
Texas limited Missouri to a season-low 173 yards of total offense. And the Longhorns' special teams punctuated a first-half scoring binge with a blocked punt for a touchdown that boosted them to a 35-7 halftime advantage.
“I thought tonight in the first half is the best we’ve played for sure,” Texas quarterback Colt McCoy said. “We looked complete and we look confident. We were feeling good and having fun.”
That portrayal particularly described the efforts of McCoy, who had floundered through his worst game of the season last week against Oklahoma. Some of his problems were explained by a lingering chest cold and a busted thumb he sustained after banging it against Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy's helmet.
Those struggles marked a growing national perception that McCoy no longer was a viable Heisman Trophy candidate. But he rebounded Saturday with his most efficient game of the season, completing his first 11 passes en route to a 269-yard, three-TD pass effort. McCoy finished the first half by hitting 18 of his first 21 passes with dropped passes accounting for two of the incompletions.
“Colt has had a tough year,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “He’s been hurt and sick. But we’ve got the Colt of old back now.”
McCoy's fast start mirrored that of his team. The Longhorns had recently struggled early offensively and defensively in recent games.
“Our offense and defense hadn’t really started well,” Brown said. “We thought it was key to come in with a swagger, excited about the game and ready to play.”
Texas' big effort impressed Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whose team endured its worst home loss since the final game of the 2002 season.
“Obviously, Texas is a great football team,” Pinkel said. “There’s no question about that. They might be the best team in the country, time will tell that.”
And it will send them into the showdown against Oklahoma State in exactly the same place of the schedule as the Longhorns’ loss at Texas Tech appeared last season.
In 2008, the Longhorns produced an emotional victory over Oklahoma, followed by a beatdown victory over Missouri the following week.
The loss in the final seconds against Texas Tech was their only blemish, but was enough to keep them out of the Big 12 championship game and the national title game.
“Next week’s game against Oklahoma State is in exactly the same spot as the Texas Tech game was last year,” Brown said. “The kids understand what is at stake this year.”
The Longhorns have had a remarkable string of success against the Cowboys over the years, winning 11 straight games. Their confidence is buoyed by some huge comebacks against OSU over the years, including climbing out of a 21-0 hole in their most recent visit to Stillwater in 2007. And they will be facing an OSU team that will be stripped of two of its major weapons with the uncertain playing status of offensive standouts Dez Bryant and Kendall Hunter.
Mike Gundy’s team has developed capable replacements for both key losses. Their recent surge has caught the Longhorns’ attention as they get ready for the South Division showdown.
“Tonight was a win, but Stillwater will be a whole different environment,” Texas defensive end Sergio Kindle said. “We’re going to have to wait and see how we play … We can’t take anything for granted when we go there.”
But not if the Texas team that played Saturday night shows up at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“Next week will be the toughest game of the year because it’s our next game,” McCoy said. “We’re kind of running the gauntlet. We know Oklahoma State will be a great team. But we’ll be ready.”