10-26-07 - Texas has bounced back from its longest conference losing streak in more than 50 years with back-to-back wins over the only two teams in the Big 12 that don't have a conference victory.
Taking advantage of another struggling Big 12 rival might not be as easy on Saturday, when the 17th-ranked Longhorns host a Nebraska team that hopes to be rejuvenated by legendary coach Tom Osborne's return to the program.
Ten years after retiring as coach of the Cornhuskers, Osborne returned on Oct. 16 to serve as the school's interim athletic director and help turn around its atypically mediocre football program.
"I'm counting on him to do what needs to be done to move our program forward and make progress here," university chancellor Harvey Perlman said.
Osborne's resume suggests he's the right man for that job. He led the Cornhuskers to 17 top 10 finishes in his 25 years as coach between 1973 and 1997. In that stretch, he helped Nebraska win part or all of three national titles while compiling 255 victories.
"We'd like to see the intensity level pick up to what we're accustomed to," Osborne said.
He'll have his work cut out for him, though, as this year's Cornhuskers (4-4, 1-3) have lost three straight Big 12 games by a combined 122-34.
They'll try to snap that skid against Texas (6-2, 2-2), which had its own struggles in conference play until two weeks ago. Dating to last year, the Longhorns had lost four straight conference games for the first time since they went 0-6 in the Southwest Conference in 1956.
After dropping its first two Big 12 games this season to Kansas State and Oklahoma, however, Texas has rebounded with wins at Iowa State and Baylor. The Longhorns overcame three turnovers and outscored Baylor 21-3 in the second half en route to a 31-10 victory last Saturday.
"I'm not sure we would have won this game at the beginning of the season," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "The demeanor of the coaches and players ... they never, ever, thought that they had a chance to lose this game."
Colt McCoy threw two interceptions, giving him 12 on the season - tied for fifth-most in the Football Bowl Subdivision. But he also completed 25 of 34 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown. He's 11th in the FBS with 2,169 passing yards and a 67.3 completion percentage.
"Colt's a warrior out there," wide receiver Quan Cosby said. "He's always ready to pick it up. He's a huge leader out there and we look to him."
Osborne, meanwhile, has said he'll wait until the end of this season to make a decision on the future of current coach Bill Callahan, who is 26-19 since taking over for Frank Solich before the 2004 season.
Osborne's new era with the team didn't get off to a strong start last Saturday, when Nebraska lost 36-14 to Texas A&M. It was the Cornhuskers' third loss in Lincoln - more than they ever had in a single season during Osborne's tenure as coach.
"We've got to keep upbeat and positive. There's nothing you can do otherwise," said Callahan, whose team committed three turnovers in a game for the fifth time this season. "You can't go into the tank mentally. We can't give up and point fingers. You rally your kids and help them through it."
Despite the blowout loss, Osborne found reason to be positive.
"When you have turnovers like that, it gives you the impression that it's worse than it was," Osborne said. "The effort was better. I actually was encouraged."
Nebraska gave up a season-high 359 rushing yards last weekend, allowing more than 300 yards on the ground for the second consecutive game and the third time this year. The Cornhuskers are 106th out of 120 teams in the FBS in total defense at 457.4 yards per game, and 116th in rushing defense at 227.4 a contest. They're on pace to have the worst defense in the program's history.
Texas running back Jamaal Charles will try to exploit that weakness as he looks to regain the form he had earlier this season. After rushing for at least 100 yards in each of his first three games, Charles has been held under the century mark in five straight contests. He's totaled just 100 yards in his last two games.
Texas outrushed Nebraska 128-38 when the teams met last season, but the Longhorns looked like they were headed for defeat before a wild finish. The Cornhuskers lost a fumble while they were trying to kill the clock late in the fourth quarter, and Texas' Ryan Bailey made a 22-yard field goal with 23 seconds remaining to give the Longhorns a 22-20 victory.
That was Texas' fifth win in six games against the Cornhuskers since Osborne retired from coaching. Nebraska was 1-1 against the Longhorns under Osborne, but Texas leads the series 7-4.