- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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The comment was an innocuous one, just a little side comment Mack Brown threw out while noting that Texas was glad to finally receive its conference schedule from the Big 12.
Back in the spring, Brown mentioned the schedule that arrived on his desk from the conference office wasn't the one he'd wanted. Nor was it his second preference.
No, it seemed like that conference slate was among his least-favorite options.
The Texas coach had a whole summer to dissect his 2012 schedule and the order in which his Longhorns must face its Big 12 foes. He's still not thrilled.
"It's a bit of a concern, because after 14 years, every time the Big 12 sends us a schedule it's always the last option that we get," Brown said. "I think what I'm going to do next year is put the one that I like least first, and maybe they'll give us the other one. But it sounds like nobody is happy."
Brown can finagle things all he wants to beat the system in the future, but the present challenge is unavoidable. His 2012 Texas squad faces a schedule that will test its might early, often and especially late.
By the time game No. 4 arrives, the Longhorns need to have their house in order. First comes a trip to Oklahoma State, followed by a home contest with conference newcomer West Virginia.
Both programs live (and die) by the Dana Holgorsen philosophy that there's nothing better than a good ole offensive shootout. By then, Texas -- and more important, its starting quarterback -- will need the confidence to know it can score points with anybody.
Then comes the Red River Rivalry. No matter how the schedule had shaken out, there's no tougher game than this one. There's also no limping into this Cotton Bowl showdown. Texas needs to know its identity well on both sides of the ball by Oct. 13.
Just as critical, common sense says Texas needs to be riding some tangible momentum when it arrives in Dallas. In that way, the West Virginia game could be a perfect home-game springboard -- or a dangerous pitfall.
We'll pause this gantlet to point out the obvious: Texas players say they haven't spent much time looking at this schedule. They say life is lived one game at a time and they dream about nothing more than whooping Wyoming.
The Red River Game, as always, will provide either an astronomical climb in the rankings or a crash-back-to-earth fallout. Either way, the Longhorns will have to pull it together when they return home. The next four games are crucial.
Texas faces Baylor at home, Kansas on the road, Texas Tech in Lubbock and Iowa State back at DKR. Cake walk, right?
Texas is a combined 12-4 against them in the past five years. Going 3-1 will not cut it this time around.
Then the Longhorns finish with TCU and Kansas State. Again, not exactly what Mack Brown drew up when plotting his path to a BCS bowl.
"Nobody wants to end up at Kansas State in December," he said. "That is not a slot everybody is working to get, I'll tell you that. That was not a positive option."
Nevermind the fact the Wildcats have won each of their past four meetings with Texas. Brown wants to get in and get out.
"I called coach [Bill] Snyder and said we wanted that at 10 o'clock in the morning," Brown said. "He said, 'We only play at night in December. It's really tough to get our lights to work until December, and then they work really well.'"
Is Texas' schedule any tougher than the one the rest of its Big 12 peers plays? Not according to most strength of schedule rankings.
In the simple measurement of opponents' 2011 win percentage, Texas ranks No. 9 in the conference at nearly 57.25 percent, just ahead of Oklahoma State (56.95). That's good for 24th nationally.
Preseason guru Phil Steele ranks the Longhorns' schedule 50th nationally in difficulty and second-easiest among Big 12 teams ahead of Texas Tech.
In the round-robin format of the 10-team league's schedule, perhaps no one team can truly have an easier conference slate than the rest.
There's a case to be made that Kansas' schedule is toughest, but that's really only because the Jayhawks can't play themselves.
Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom has scanned the calendar. He's excited about the competition that TCU and West Virginia bring to the table.
But the rest couldn't matter less. That's the mentality he hopes his teammates adopt: Great teams don't care about who they play or when they play them.
"You shouldn't care who you're playing, you should just go out there and play," Byndom said. "No matter the name or the logo on their helmet. That's what we've got to do, and we've got to take that approach into each game. I think we'll be just fine."
1dEthan Sherwood Strauss