Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Texas players know their Bowl Championship Series hopes dangle precipitously as they prepare for old rival Texas A&M.
But their immediate chance for revenge supersedes even their postseason hopes.
Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo's memory of the Aggies is never far away. Each day before he leaves his locker he briefly glances at a picture of running back Michael Goodson streaking past him for a touchdown in last year's game that punctuated A&M's 38-30 upset victory in College Station.
"I know it's pretty big because they put it in their media guide," Orkapo said. "Obviously this is one of those games that have been on my mind for a long, long time."
Actually, Goodson's touchdown run is such a big part of Aggies lore that it's pictured twice in A&M's 2008 media guide. It's plays like that over the last two years that have the Aggies brimming with confidence despite a disappointing 4-7 season.
In 2006, the Aggies claimed a 12-7 victory in Austin, punctuating the victory with a dramatic 16-play, 88-yard drive where they converted five third-down plays in the process. There was high drama as A&M quarterback Stephen McGee was vomiting on the field throughout that game-winning drive. And Texas quarterback Colt McCoy had to be carted away after a devastating hit by A&M defensive end Michael Bennett.
But more importantly, that game kept the Longhorns from advancing to the Big 12 Championship Game. Instead, Texas went to the Alamo Bowl the season after winning the national championship.
And last season, the Longhorns again were in the mix for the Big 12 title game before the Aggies sprung the upset in what turned out to be Dennis Franchione's last game at A&M.
The Longhorns remember both of those losses and what resulted from them.
"Those games are a huge motivation for us," Texas defensive end Henry Melton told the Houston Chronicle. "Nobody wants to lose to the Aggies. Not three times. Not one time. Not ever. We've had a couple of bad games against them and we're just trying to get back on track."
This season's A&M team, the first coached by Mike Sherman, bears little resemblance to those previously stout Aggies squads. But they could similarly ruin the Longhorns hopes by pulling off what would be one of the most memorable upsets in the 115-game history of the series.
A crowd of more than 98,000 -- expected to be the largest ever to watch a football game in Texas state history -- will attend the game at Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium.
For his part, Texas coach Mack Brown is trying to keep the BCS standings out of his pregame preparations. Instead, he's reminded his players that they will be facing friends and former high school teammates on the other sideline who would love to ruin their postseason plans again.
"Sitting here and talking about it (the BCS) is disrespectful to A&M, and it's not very smart," Brown said.
The Longhorns were briefed on the BCS shortly after the poll was released on Sunday and Brown said he hasn't mentioned it to them since.
"I have no control of the BCS," Orakpo said. "And I don't really care about it. We've got A&M this week and that's the only thing that's important to me."
Those victories over A&M's oldest natural rival weren't enough to save Franchione's job. And now the program has bottomed out in Sherman's first season. The Aggies have limped to a 4-7 record and will be out of bowl competition for the first time since 2005.
Already, reporters at Texas newspapers are wondering if the Aggies are poised to become the South Divison's cellar dweller after the emergence of Robert Griffin in Art Briles' program at Baylor.
But Sherman is pleased with how his team has progressed and persevered, even though it is poised to become the first A&M team in school history to lose every game against a South Division team this season -- barring a stunning upset on Thursday night.
"You can't hang onto the past because it'll drag you back, particularly in a season like this," Sherman said. "I think the guys for the most part have a very positive attitude. There's been the occasional clunker, but I don't let them dwell on the negative part. I think the guys, for what has transpired and the adversity we've been faced with, have handled themselves admirably."