Texas was undefeated and ranked in the top 10 as it entered conference play last year before back-to-back Big 12 losses derailed its national title hopes. This year’s Longhorns appear determined to avoid a similar letdown.
The fifth-ranked Longhorns look to remain undefeated and continue their early dominance as they visit Colorado on Saturday night in both teams’ Big 12 opener.
Texas was ranked seventh after opening 4-0 last season, but lost its first conference opener in nine years when it was upset at home by unranked Kansas State. The Longhorns followed that up with a 28-21 loss to Oklahoma, opening 0-2 in conference play for the first time since 1956.
Coach Mack Brown isn’t concerned about similar struggles from this year’s Longhorns.
“I’ve talked a little bit to this team about last year’s team, and it’s a totally different team this year with a different mindset and a different attitude,” Brown said. “They’ve been fun and competitive.”
One reason for Brown’s confidence is the way the 2008 Longhorns (4-0) have dominated their first four games. They’ve scored at least 42 points in each one and given up no more than 13, outscoring opponents 198-43 overall.
“This is the best we’ve played since the national title year,” said Texas senior offensive lineman Cedric Dockery, recalling the Longhorns’ undefeated 2005 season. “It shows up on the scoreboard and in the win column.”
It also shows up in quarterback Colt McCoy’s statistics. The third-year starter has completed 80 of 100 passes to lead the Football Bowl Subdivision in completion percentage. He’s thrown for 1,018 yards, 14 touchdowns and one interception, and ranks second in the FBS with a 209.7 passer rating.
McCoy was 17-for-19 for 185 yards, three TDs and no picks in a 52-10 win over Arkansas last Saturday, and also ran for 84 yards to lead the team in rushing for the third time this season.
“Colt is playing as well as any quarterback in the country,” Brown said. “It would be hard to imagine anyone playing better. Colt’s confidence is just oozing.”
McCoy, though, said he’s concentrating on avoiding a letdown as the Longhorns open Big 12 competition.
“We did what we needed to do,” McCoy said of taking a 4-0 record into Big 12 play. “Our total mind-set is on conference play.”
That’s probably where their focus needs to be as Texas visits Colorado (3-1) before matching up against four consecutive opponents currently ranked in the Top 25, including next week’s rivalry game against No. 1 Oklahoma.
“People have been very critical of this team coming into the season,” Brown said. “They say we’ve been under the radar and we have question marks. Those question marks are still all there and the competition picks up this week. … We start with a higher level of competition with better caliber teams. It will be interesting to see where we go.”
The Longhorns put their undefeated record on the line against a Colorado team coming off its first loss. The Buffaloes were held to a season-low 278 total yards in a 39-21 defeat at Florida State. Quarterback Cody Hawkins, son of coach Dan Hawkins, threw three touchdowns, but took responsibility for the loss after completing only 17 of his 36 passes with an interception.
“I am not saying anything new, but that I played poorly today, and that loss is 110 percent my fault,” said Hawkins, a second-year starter who completed 70.0 percent of his passes during Colorado’s 3-0 start. “It all comes back to me. I have to take care of the football, and I have to communicate and make plays when they are there to be made.
“‘I apologize to my teammates, the coaches and the fans because I did not play the way that I can. That was not me today. I can play a lot better than that. We have to rebound this week and get better.”
Colorado has lost five of its last six meetings with Texas, including the last two in Boulder. The teams haven’t met since the Longhorns embarrassed the Buffaloes 70-3 in the Big 12 championship game Dec. 3, 2005, en route to the national championship.