Austin, Texas Texas coach Mack Brown embraces pressure.
The pressure to beat rival Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night for the first time in three years. The pressure to keep winning to stay in race for the Big 12 and national championships.
And the pressure facing quarterback Colt McCoy, who needs a big game in what may be his last chance to make his case to win the Heisman Trophy.
Bring it on, Brown says. His players are ready.
“We have a live audience from every voter in the country. It’s kind of like a playoff,” said Brown, who is also going for career win No. 200. “People will be watching Colt for the Heisman and will be watching our team to see how good we are ... It’s time that we play great.”
The No. 4 Longhorns (10-1) have been anything but great against their biggest in-state rivals the last two years.
In 2006, the Aggies (4-7) knocked Texas out of the Big 12 title game with an 12-7 upset, then pulled off another last season with a 38-30 win in what turned out to be coach Dennis Franchione’s last game at A&M.
An Aggie win tonight would be an even bigger stunner.
Texas A&M is a 34-point underdog and struggling badly under first-year coach Mike Sherman. Their season got off to a dismal start with a loss to Arkansas State and never got better.
The Aggies come to Austin on a two-game losing streak with lopsided losses to Oklahoma (66-28) and perennial Big 12 doormat Baylor (41-21).
“You play for pride,” Aggie quarterback Jerrod Johnson said. “That’s pretty much all we can play for now.”
Texas is playing for so much more.
With McCoy leading the way, the Longhorns surged to No. 1 and stayed there for about a month before their national title and Big 12 hopes took a big hit with their last-second loss at Texas Tech. Both goals are still attainable if the complicated BCS formula and the Big 12 tiebreaker system fall their way.
The deck is stacked against Texas in both scenarios, however. Texas is No. 2 in the current BCS standings, but Oklahoma would likely grab that spot with a win at Oklahoma State on Saturday.
The Sooners would also have the tie-breaker advantage in the Big 12 South. If the Sooners lose, all sorts of wild things could happen for the Longhorns over the next couple of weeks. How does missing out on the Big 12 title game, but making the national championship game sound?
Even so, a win tonight keeps Texas in prime position for a BCS bowl bid and maybe even more if the Sooners lose and everything else falls just right.
“You walk around campus, you go home and people are calling you from back home talking about what needs to happen and what needs to go on and if we’re going,” to the BCS title game in Miami, McCoy said.
His standard text message reply: “We’ve got to beat A&M. That’s it.”
Texas likely needs to not only beat the Aggies but beat them badly to give voters in the BCS human polls a reason to pick them ahead of Oklahoma.
Brown dismisses any idea of “style points” as insulting to a rival that has beaten the Longhorns the last two years.
“That would be disrespectful of A&M,” Brown said.
For McCoy, who likely would be the hands-down favorite for the Heisman if not for one spectacular touchdown grab by Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree, a big game on national television on Thanksgiving night could be a huge boost for the trophy.
A win would give him a school-record 31 victories as a starting quarterback, moving him past Vince Young for tops at Texas.
“That (would be) pretty special for me, my family and my friends,” McCoy said. “As a quarterback, you want as many of those as you can get.”
McCoy has yet to beat Texas A&M. In 2006, he was still recovering from an injured nerve in his neck and shoulder and played his worst game of the season. He was carted off the field in the final minute when a big hit aggravated the injury, causing some Aggies fans to mock him with the nickname “Cart McCry.”
Last season, he was sacked four times and had three turnovers.
“I didn’t go back and watch the last two games. I didn’t want to,” McCoy said. “This is a new team. We’ll be ready.”