UT/Arkansas State Preview

Sure, Texas will buzz saw Arkansas State this weekend. No doubt about it. The game is designed as a warm-up to the tougher road ahead. But don’t forget that these gimme games aren’t always easy.

Let’s go back to 1976, the year it all changed. Darrell Royal had two national championships under his belt and a third one from 1970 with a big asterisk next to it (the poll in question didn’t pay attention to UT’s loss to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl). Earl Campbell was on board and big as a tree. The Horns entered the season ranked seventh. All was as it should be.

Then it all came crashing down with a heartbreaking one-point, season-opening loss to Boston College. Texas fans were wishing they’d scheduled a patsy — some team like Arkansas State. The good news was the next week would feature just such a patsy — North Texas State. Texas had never played the lowly Mean Green, whose nickname came from Mean Joe Greene, the one great player to bust out of the school and into an outstanding pro career as well as pop culture history in a memorable Coke ad.

The storyline was simple: the Horns, who’d fallen to 19 in the polls, were pissed off and ready to destroy their opponent. Not so fast. The Mean Green played like Joe was still there, and the Orange faithful were sweating. The Horns could barely score. It came down to the final minutes with Texas up 17-14, but North Texas was driving. In one of those great moments of “what if,” the Mean Green QB hurled the ball toward the end zone where the Texas defender (can someone remind who this was?) leaped gloriously in the air and swatted it away at the last second. Victory sealed. Whew!

But it was a sign, an ugly black omen. That year the Royal dynasty fell apart. Texas scraped to a 6-6 tie with Oklahoma and began to climb in the polls until the University of Houston spanked them 30-0 at home. Texas did not lose at home. Ever. They did it again later in the season to the Aggies, the week after losing at Baylor. That skin-of-the-teeth escape against North Texas was the only thing that kept Royal from ending his coaching career with a losing season. The Horns finished 5-5-1. The next year Fred Akers took over, Earl Campbell won the Heisman trophy, the Horns opened the season by avenging that loss to Boston College, went undefeated in the regular season, and lost to, of course, Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

Which is to say, don’t count anything out. The school formerly known as Southwest Texas State once beat Rice and should have defeated the Aggies two years ago. Upsets happen. It won’t happen this week, but just don’t ask Coach Royal to predict the final score. He might punch you.

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