Austin, Texas Talk about crunch time for No. 13 Texas and No. 16 Kansas State. It's barely October and their national championship dreams teeter on the brink of oblivion.
The winner of Saturday's Big 12 opener remains an outside contender for the national title if it can run the table and win the conference. The loser gets pushed off the cliff.
When the season began, both teams had the swagger of potential title winners. Stiff punches from Arkansas and Marshall wobbled their legs and damaged their reputation.
While the college football world knows what's at stake for these preseason powers, the Longhorns (3-1) and Wildcats (4-1) are sticking to the mantra of one game at a time.
"That's somebody else's perception," Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said of the do-or-die aura surrounding the game. "Those kinds of things (national championships) are way out there, way down the road."
Texas coach Mack Brown said the game would be hard fought no matter what the records were. He scrambled to get his team refocused after an early loss and expects Snyder will have the Wildcats ready.
"I just think we're going to see a great effort out of them," Brown said. "I think we'd see a great effort if they were undefeated. I don't think it changes."
The reality of a desperate situation is hard to escape, however.
"Since each team has that one loss, two losses makes it tough to get into that national championship," said Longhorns senior wide receiver Roy Williams.
After Texas lost to Arkansas, Williams had the bravado to predict the Longhorns could win the rest of their games. Williams gave up a chance in April to be a high draft choice in the NFL to chase a national title this year. After the loss, he seized the reins of leadership and challenged his team to respond.
Texas did that by outscoring Rice and Tulane 111-25 over the next two games. Although some dismissed the scores as coming against weak competition, to the Longhorns it was a statement that they could save their season.
"The loss was our reality check," Williams said.
Kansas State may have a similar leader stepping up. Starting quarterback Ell Roberson returns after missing two games with an injured left hand, which is not his throwing hand.