It was just a season ago that Texas stumbled to a 5-7 record (2-6 in the Big 12) and did not qualify for a bowl game. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis resigned after the season and defensive coordinator Will Muschamp also left to take over as Florida’s head coach.
The forgettable 2010 season followed an appearance in the BCS national title game in 2009, a loss to Alabama.
Fast forward to 2011.
Texas is 4-0 (1-0 in the Big 12) and ranked No. 11 in the AP poll and No. 10 in the USA Today poll. The Longhorns can make a major statement about the state of its program on Saturday against Oklahoma (No. 3 in the AP poll, No. 1 in the USA Today poll) in the annual Red River Rivalry game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. The game is scheduled for 12 p.m. and will be carried on ABC.
Yes, the Red River Rivalry is back on the national stage with both teams undefeated and ranked.
But is Texas really back?
“I would have a better answer at the end of the season,” Texas safety Blake Gideon told reporters during a press conference on Monday. “Four wins, in the old scheme of things, if we don't win another game from here on out, it's not going to get you much. It's not going to get you into a bowl game.
“All I can say is, we have done our job from here or up to this point. So from here on out we need to keep executing one week at a time. I think we have done everything we can, four games, to prepare ourselves for a fifth game, whatever that may be. Now it's just going to be our job to go back to work tomorrow and prepare like we have the first four games.”
There have been signs that the program is coming back. Texas has already made a few statements this season.
After beating Rice 34-9 in the opener, Texas rallied from a 13-3 halftime deficit to beat BYU 17-16. Starter Garrett Gilbert, who will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, was ineffective and pulled against the Cougars. The two-headed quarterback attack of Case McCoy, younger brother of Colt, and David Ash, a freshman, helped rally the Longhorns to the win.
Texas followed with a convincing 49-20 win at UCLA, with McCoy going 12 of 15 for 168 yards and two touchdowns.
The Longhorns’ most impressive win, however, was arguably last week at Iowa State. Texas was up 34-0 at halftime and cruised to a 37-14 win over the previously unbeaten Cyclones. Iowa State beat Texas in Austin last season 28-21. Ash was 7 of 12 for 145 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s game.
True freshman running back Malcolm Brown has also provided the offense with a big boost and has given the Longhorns the rushing attack that was missing in 2010. Brown has rushed for 327 yards and a touchdown on 67 carries.
The defense has also been strong. Texas is ranked 15th nationally in total defense (289 yards per game) and 12th nationally in scoring defense (14.75 points per game).
The real test, however, comes Saturday afternoon in the Cotton Bowl against the Sooners.
“The season's long. I think this is a great measuring stick for us because people would have been surprised at the first of the season, if we had said we'd be 4-0,” Texas head coach Mack Brown told reporters during a press conference on Monday. “That's not something they would have thought. We have two Top 5 teams in the next two weeks that will be really demanding for us, and it will also show us where we are on the national scene and our team is ready for that right now.”
True, the schedule doesn’t get easier after the Red River Rivalry. The Longhorns host No. 6 Oklahoma State on Oct. 15. Texas finishes the season with this four-game stretch: at Missouri, vs. No. 20 Kansas State, at No. 24 Texas A&M and at No. 25 Baylor.
“The next two weeks is a measuring stick for us,” Brown said. “We are playing two of the best teams in the country, and these two will be better than what we played in the first four weeks. I want to see us respond. I think that's good.”