It took a 6-0 conference record for Texas to resurface within the national rankings for the first time since Sept. 7. Ranked 23rd in the AP , the 7-2 Longhorns and their cardiac kid quarterback made off with a crucial 47-40 overtime victory at West Virginia to keep their Big 12 title dreams alive. Now, this battered but not broken bunch enters the weighty home stretch of their schedule, beginning at home Saturday against No. 12 Oklahoma State.
It's hard to look forward without looking back at what Texas did lose in Morgantown: leading rusher Johnathan Gray (Achilles) and defensive tackle Chris Whaley (knee), both of whom were lost for the year. Junior Joe Bergeron, who was banished to special teams over scant production and a case of fumblitis, will platoon with Malcolm Brown – and potentially scat guy Daje Johnson – in Gray's absence.
The Cowboys (8-1, 5-1 in the Big 12) were the media's preseason favorite to take the conference, though that consensus slackened after OSU lost their Big 12 opener against West Virginia 30-21. Head coach Mike Gundy installed quarterback Clint Chelf and running back Desmond Roland in place of early season starters J.W. Walsh and Jeremy Smith, respectively, and has the Pokes 5-0 since.
Texas can win the Big 12 and clinch a Fiesta Bowl berth if they run the table these last three weeks against OSU, 7-3 Texas Tech, and No. 4 Baylor, but neither injuries nor odds run in their favor. The Cowboys are three point favorites this week and have won two straight in Austin. Although bereft of an electric passing attack this year, Oklahoma State has relied on Roland – a smash-mouth, between-the-tackles runner – and their defense, which hasn't allowed a touchdown in three games, to smooth themselves out.
Longhorn quarterback Case McCoy has thrown six interceptions in his last four games. Saturday he'll face a Cowboy defense that's second in the Big 12 in interceptions (16), and tied for 7th nationwide. Their standouts, linebacker Caleb Lavey and cornerback Justin Gilbert, have seven picks between the two.
Losing Gray places even more pressure on McCoy to make plays, which has historically begat turnovers. Where will offensive coordinator Major Applewhite turn for relief? More of Daje Johnson out of the backfield is a no-brainer under the circumstances. Meanwhile, Greg Robinson's defense got pushed around last week in ways it hasn't since Iowa State. This week's spotlight will fall on both coordinators to cope with what's lost.