Despite a disappointing 2010 season, the Longhorns are still the Longhorns, say Cougars.
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Back in January of 2010, when athletic director Tom Holmoe announced he had reached an agreement for BYU to play college football powerhouse Texas in September of 2011, it looked like the Cougars were biting off more than they could chew.
The mighty Longhorns had just completed a 13-0 regular season before losing 37-21 to Alabama in the BCS national championship game, quarterback Colt McCoy had been a Heisman Trophy candidate and Texas had won 10 or more games for nine straight seasons.
Then the 2010 season happened to the Longhorns. They went 5-7, suffering their first losing season in the Mack Brown era. They finished last in the Big 12 South.
Suddenly, what was looking like a sure loss for the Cougars Texas and BYU later agreed to add two more games to the series, including one in Provo in 2013 resembled a winnable game.
It is against that backdrop that 1-0, now-independent BYU storms into 101,000-seat Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday to test one of college football's bluebloods (5 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) in front of the largest crowd to ever witness a BYU football game. A win for the Cougars, seven-point underdogs, would not be nearly as impressive as it would have been when the contract was signed, but would still be significant nevertheless.
"It would be huge. Texas is Texas," said running back Bryan Kariya, a catalyst in BYU's 14-13 win over Oklahoma in 2009, the last time the Cougars faced a Big 12 opponent.
Huge enough to propel BYU into some early-season BCS talk? Maybe, maybe not. But a loss certainly would end the BCS game dream, especially considering the other three BCS conference opponents on the Cougars' schedule Oregon State, TCU and Utah looked less than formidable in their openers.
The Cougars, to a man, are saying this week that Texas' status as a college football kingpin has not diminished one iota.
"I am not sure where they are ranked, but I believe they are ranked in the top 20 or 25," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "They are almost every year. They are bowl game participants, with rare exception. They have some of the nicest facilities, largest budget, best coaches, year in and year out. I think most people in the game recognize that, and still think [Texas' cachet] is the same."
Texas was unranked in the major preseason polls for the first time since 1988 this August, but jumped into the Associated Press Top 25 at No. 24, and the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll at No. 21, after beating Rice 34-9 at home last Saturday.
BYU linebacker Brandon Ogletree, a native of McKinney, Texas, who was recruited by the Longhorns, said Texas will always be relevant in the college football world.
"I think when you see burnt orange and white, that's the first thing that comes to your mind, is national championships. They have always been relevant. If you don't count how they did last year, they have always had a good team, so they will have a lot of athletes like they always do, and Mack Brown is a great coach."
The 2010 season was a rebuilding one, after six Longhorns were taken in the preceding NFL Draft. But Brown still shook up his coaching staff in the offseason, bringing in Boise State's Bryan Harsin as the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Manny Diaz became the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
"Even though they didn't have the kind of season they wanted to last season, I know they have great coaches, and a lot of great athletes down there," said Kariya. "They have a great program, and people are going to be expecting them to come out and win games.
"There's a lot of motivation for Texas to put it all together and really live up to their name. I think they are going to fight do to that, so we expect the best Texas team that we can possibly imagine."
Already, BYU quarterback Jake Heaps said, it is noticeable on film that this isn't last year's Texas team.
"I mean, it is still Texas. When you talk about Texas, everybody knows who you are talking about," Heaps said. "Everybody knows the players on that football team. Mack Brown is a great coach. … Their defensive coordinator is a fantastic football coach, and so is their offensive coordinator. Very brilliant. They are going to have a good year, so we are excited to play them at their place. It is going to be a great experience for us."
The mighty Texas Longhorns
• Four national championships: 1963, 1969, 1970, 2005.
• Ranked the seventh most prestigious program in the country by ESPN.
• Ranks second in wins (851) among NCAA programs.
• Twenty-five bowl wins, third-most in NCAA football.
• Longhorns have won 32 conference championships.
• Two Heisman Trophy winners (Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams).
• 53 consensus All-Americans.
• Seventeen Longhorns are in College Football Hall of Fame.
BYU at No. 24 Texas
P Saturday, 5 p.m.
TV • ESPN2