- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Back on Sept. 16, we looked at the slate ahead for Texas amid a 1-2 start and three intriguing Big 12 challenges up next, capped by a trip to Dallas to face Oklahoma and perhaps avenge three years of rough losses.
Coming off a home loss to Ole Miss, Texas seemed just as likely to be 2-4 as 4-2 by now. It was easy to picture this season falling apart quickly, especially if the Sooners delivered another beatdown.
And here we are today, with Texas indeed 4-2 and off to a surprising 3-0 start to its conference slate. So, once more, let’s look down the road and break down the next three tests. Just how legitimate are Texas’ Big 12 title hopes going forward?
Keep this in mind: Texas’ final three games are Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and at Baylor. Ending the year with that kind of a run, against three of the conference’s best, won’t be easy. But the Longhorns need to take care of business in these next three to make those games matter.
Oct. 26: TCU
If you’re looking at these three games and chalking each up as easy wins, don’t overlook the fact Texas very nearly went 0-3 against these opponents last season.
TCU is a bit of a mess right now and would drop to 3-5 on the year if Texas can escape Fort Worth with a victory this weekend. All four of its losses have come to ranked teams -- LSU, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State -- and TCU hasn’t lost any game by more than two scores.
So the Frogs are playing people close, despite losing reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year Devonte Fields for the season and continuing to struggle offensively. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has been up and down and mistake-prone all season, but he did rush for 85 yards in Austin last year and did just enough to pull off the 20-13 upset.
Case McCoy gets the start for Texas, and while the Longhorns found their offensive identity in a power run attack against OU, TCU’s defense is good against the run. Will he be able to make the big plays that David Ash missed last time these teams met?
The Longhorns had an extra week to prepare for this game. If they really are as improved as they seem, they should be able to take care of this TCU team. But it could be a close one.
Nov. 2: Kansas
Remember, no game on Texas’ schedule is a trap game because they all are. Kansas came oh-so-close to stunning the Longhorns last year. If Greg Brown catches the game-clinching interception on McCoy’s first pass attempt, who knows what Texas football would look like today.
What we do know is that Charlie Weis has yet to win a Big 12 game at KU, the Jayhawks have lost 24 straight Big 12 games and 35 of their last 36 in conference play.
But because of the nail-biter in 2012, Texas will take Kansas seriously in its first home game in more than a month. Running back James Sims will test its run defense, and so will Tony Pierson if he’s back from his concussion.
A loss to the Jayhawks would probably be a damning blow to Texas’ hopes of making a conference title run. But that still seems exceptionally unlikely.
Nov. 9: West Virginia
Now this is a game that’s just hard to peg, kind of like when Texas went on the road to Texas Tech last year. West Virginia isn’t the easiest team to figure out in this year’s Big 12, what with its performances that were good (Oklahoma State), not good enough (Texas Tech) and plain ugly (Baylor).
WVU could have things turned around by the time Texas visits Morgantown. Or it could be in the midst of a four-game losing streak -- couldn’t K-State and TCU both beat this team? -- and clawing just to reach bowl eligibility. Time will tell, but this is no doubt a winnable game for UT.
The offense that tore up Texas last season in a 48-45 win is now filled with transfers, freshmen and new faces. The Baylor blowout loss skewed its numbers, but WVU’s defense is at this point a below-average unit in the Big 12 by most measures.
Texas has a legitimate chance at 6-0 in the Big 12 here, which is a pretty crazy statement considering that 1-2 start to 2013. Slip up against one or more of these next three foes and the rest will be an uphill climb, especially with Baylor looking poised to possible run the table.
Either way, the win over Oklahoma has set this schedule up to once again be a favorable one. The Longhorns could be in for a wild finish, but first they’ll have to win these next three.
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