Didn't See THAT Coming: Texas Is a Legit Big 12 Title Contender

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterOctober 12, 2013

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 12:  Head coach Mack Brown of the Texas Longhorns has a cooler of ice water dumped on him by his team after the Longhorns beat the Oklahoma Sooners 36-20 at the Cotton Bowl on October 12, 2013 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Even after back-to-back losses to BYU and Ole Miss in September, Texas coach Mack Brown was optimistic.

He felt the Longhorns could still win a Big 12 championship. 

"We've got a new start next week. We've got Kansas State," Brown said after the Ole Miss loss, as reported by George Schroeder of the USA Today. "We could get all this righted by winning the Big 12 championship, and that's what they've got to do.

"We win the Big 12 championship, we'll be excited, and that's all we've got left."

He was technically correct, but things didn't look promising at the time—at least not after giving up over 800 yards rushing in those two losses. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was fired, and a rash of injuries made the future—both immediate and long term—look bleak. 

But the mood has changed after Texas' 36-20 win over Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry on Saturday. The Longhorns are suddenly 3-0 in Big 12 conference play and have a clear shot to get back to a BCS bowl game. 

Just like Brown has been saying. 

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 12:  Case McCoy #6 of the Texas Longhorns and head coach Mack Brown of the Texas Longhorns celebrate after the Longhorns beat the Oklahoma Sooners 36-20 at the Cotton Bowl on October 12, 2013 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Penningto
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Texas handed a good ol' fashioned butt-whipping to Oklahoma, dominating the Sooners with the downhill running game, something the 'Horns should have done in Week 6 against Iowa State. Running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown each went over the 100-yard mark as UT racked up 255 yards on 60 carries. 

That opened up the passing game for quarterback Case McCoy, who threw a pair of long touchdown passes, one each to receivers Mike Davis and Marcus Johnson. 

Whether run-blocking or in pass protection, Texas' offensive line was tremendous. It was the most effective the offense has looked all season. But it wasn't just that side of the ball that deserves praise. The Longhorns defense held the Sooners to one touchdown and won the turnover battle with two interceptions, one of which went for a score. 

There have been times this season—plenty of them, actually—when it was fair to question how good this Texas team really was. Then the Longhorns turn around and play their best football against their biggest rival (which happened to be undefeated). 

It's a much-needed win for this program. Brown is now 2-0 against Kansas State and Oklahoma this season after going 0-6 against them the past three years. 

Make no mistake, though. What happened today won't necessarily save Brown; he's still one loss away from being back on the hot-seat conversation, because that's what happens when you're in your 16th year on the job with two Big 12 titles to show for it.

But it does quiet the conversation for at least another week. 

In that vein, Brown and his team have a realistic chance this year of picking up at least a share of a third Big 12 title. Especially if Texas continues to play like it did against OU. 

Texas got through the first-three game stretch in conference play unscathed, but the next three games present their own set of challenges. Two are on the road, at TCU and at West Virginia, against good defenses. 

The final stretch against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor will be the toughest. That's when the battle for the Fiesta Bowl will be decided. 

It's easy to view that as looking ahead, but with as wide open as the Big 12 is this year, it's definitely a possibility. That and Texas isn't looking past anyone. Not after the way the season started. 

If the Longhorns keep playing with the same intensity they played with Saturday, their season could end on a much better note.