Bill Little commentary: The next chapter
In an effort to deal with the rigors of a long season -- one that begins with practice early in August and a game around the first of September and doesn't end until January -- Mack Brown has always divided the year in segments for his team.
Depending on the schedule, the one constant is that a chapter of the season always ends with the Texas-Oklahoma game in Dallas, which basically is treated like a bowl game at mid-season.
The NCAA fathers distain the idea of a college football playoff because they say they want to guard the student athlete's time. A noble thought, that, but the results so far don't seem to reflect the goal.
For years, even after colleges added an 11th game to what traditionally had been a 10 game schedule, Texas was usually the last team to open its season. That's because it usually played a night game in the third week of September. Practice began the first of September, or in some rare cases, the last week in August.
In fact, when Texas opened its 11 game season in 1979 against an Iowa State team, which featured a young Mack Brown as wide receiver coach, the date of that contest was Sept. 22. It was really radical when ABC-TV convinced the high profile programs of Texas and Arkansas to open the decade of the 1980s with a Labor Day night game on Sept. 1, 1980. Then, Texas had 19 days off until its next game on Sept. 20.
All of that changed in 1987, which coincided with David McWilliams' first game as Longhorns head coach. From that season on, the opening game of the 11-game regular season usually fell on or about the first weekend in September.
The same NCAA overseers who reject the idea of playing football into January saw the dollars available by adding a 12th game during the regular season, and so they did. Now, teams such as Texas are often faced with a schedule that includes a game every weekend from Sept. 1 through late November.
That is why Mack has chosen to "segment" the season. And Saturday's game at Iowa State represents the start of a new chapter, if not a new season.
The plan has worked tremendously. Over the last four football seasons, Texas has a remarkable record of 38-6. But the most amazing statistic comes in the post-Oklahoma regular season campaign. Regardless of the outcome of the game in Dallas, Texas is 47-5 in regular season games in the "second season" in Brown's years at Texas.
That includes last year's losses to Kansas State and Texas A&M when starting quarterback Colt McCoy was injured, as well as a 1999 loss at Texas A&M when Big 12 offensive co-MVP Major Applewhite was sidelined by a stomach virus. The other two losses came to Texas Tech in Lubbock in 1998 and 2002.
Five times in Brown's nine years, Texas has won all six of its regular season games after the Oklahoma game. And in the past five seasons, including the Big 12 Championship in 2005 and a four-out-of-five record in bowl games, Texas is 33-4 in the window following Oklahoma.
Brown has always gone with the mantra of "they will remember November," and at Texas, he's also added half of October to that philosophy.
The trip to Iowa State is to one of those old Big 8 outposts where danger and ambush always seems to be lurking. When you are the lead gunslinger in the old West, you tend to dodge a lot of bullets, and Texas has had to do that in some trips to the North schools. It is the third time the Longhorns have played in Ames. The 1999 team had just beaten Oklahoma and No. 4 ranked Nebraska when the Longhorns first journeyed there, and it took a late Chris Stockton field goal to survive, 44-41. That season, by the way, Iowa State finished 4-7 over all and was 1-7 in the Big 12.
In 2003, Texas took a 27-0 halftime lead and won, 40-19 against an Iowa State team when finished 2-10 and didn't win a league game.
Saturday's game is typical of college football in 2007. The Longhorns are 0-2 in the Big 12 South Division, but just a game behind odds-on favorite Oklahoma, which is 1-1. Iowa State under former Longhorns co-defensive coordinator Gene Chizik probably is not a contender for the North Division title, but has a victory over state rival Iowa on its resume. The Cyclones are also in the intriguing position of hosting Texas and Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks.
With six games played and a strong likelihood of at least seven (including a bowl game) remaining, Texas has more than half of its season remaining.
So it may be a stretch to call what begins in Ames "the second season." But it the topsy-turvy, whacky world of college football in 2007, it certain is the start of the second chapter of a book that absolutely no one knows how will end.