It is actually true. The sun did come up two days in a row after Texas' heart-breaking game in Lubbock. Forty-eight hours removed from the tough 42-38 loss to Texas Tech, a couple of things were apparent. First, it was a marvelous football game. Tech QB Kliff Kingsbury and UT signal-caller Chris Simms put on a spectacular show for the sellout crowd in Jones SBC Stadium and the regional TV audience that watched on ABC.
For most of the game, it was like a tennis match, with the world wondering who was going to break service first, or maybe, last. The scoring summary should have looked like a basketball game, with a count of ties and lead changes listed in the box score.
It was a brave game for both teams. For Texas, Simms and his offense played valiantly and the defense played as hard as it could. Both teams left everything they had on the field. If the game had been played on a sandlot with kids in a choose-up game, it would have been beautiful nobody would have lost.
Texas Tech, a team which had lost four times, always plays its best against Texas and Texas A&M. This year, the Red Raiders have been exceptional at home. Jones SBC Stadium was the last stop on a grueling schedule that had required UT to play 10 consecutive games, six of them away from home. For 70 days in a row, beginning on Sept. 9. The team had survived road trips to respected places on the college football circuit such as Manhattan, Kan., and Lincoln, Neb.
It had been a remarkable stretch of survival. Critical injuries to key players kept coming, but the Longhorns somehow kept winning. When the team got on the plane to go to Lubbock, two of its star defensive players — junior defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs and junior defensive end Kalen Thornton — stayed behind because of injuries. On the first punt return against the Red Raiders, outstanding junior CB Nathan Vasher sprained an ankle and left the game for most of the first half. Junior OG Tillman Holloway and junior special teamer Tien Van Nguyen also missed most of the game due to injury.
At one point, as Kingsbury grew as Darrell Royal would say "hotter than a burning stump," the Longhorns defense actually played eight different freshmen. Sophomore LB Derrick Johnson went out with a hamstring strain, and though Vasher returned, he wasn't the same.
Texas Tech's effort was not something uncommon in Lubbock. The Red Raiders have had a history of playing extremely hard and well against the Longhorns there. Part of it, this season, has to do with them being really good when Kingsbury is on. The rest is the burning desire for Tech to beat Texas. When Texas comes to Lubbock, the city is on fire.
This year was no different. For two weeks, even before the Red Raiders played Oklahoma State last weekend, all of the talk and emphasis in Lubbock was about the Texas game. When Kingsbury and his fellow seniors were introduced as part of Senior Day, it was a tribute to former Tech head coach Spike Dykes and his staff, who recruited those guys. So give them credit. In a classic shootout, they were the last guys standing.
As tough as the loss was, two things are apparent.
First, it is difficult to win all the games and when you set your intentions to play at that level, that is the risk you take. The higher you climb, the farther it is to fall. There is nothing more painful than a dashed dream and the Longhorns entered the game believing they had a legitimate chance to play for the National Championship.
What is important, however, is what still remains. The goal has been to get back into position to play for a National Championship, but when you reach that space, there is a big target on your chest and a pretty good burden on your shoulders.
The world of college football has changed a lot since Texas, under Darrell Royal, built the kind of program that this one is rapidly becoming. What we saw Saturday is a reflection of how good the Big 12 Conference really is. The way Tech played, they could have beaten anybody in the country.
The most important message to take from the events of the weekend is that there is a lot of football left to be played this season. At 9-2, Texas has a bunch to play for, not the least of which is the Thanksgiving weekend game against Texas A&M. The results from the last weeks of the season a year ago leaves us a clear message that almost anything can happen in college football.
Texas, as head coach Mack Brown scripted three years ago at the Big 12 Championship Game in San Antonio, has moved into that elite neighborhood of the nation's top teams. Given that, a chance to play for the National Championship this year is no longer a possibility, but an extremely attractive bowl game is still out there to be claimed.
There are still three weeks left in the college football season. In the final three Bowl Championship Series polls a year ago, 12 different teams occupied 28 different places in the BCS standings.
Even if a BCS bid seems remote, there still are the extremely attractive Big 12 bowl alliances with the Cotton, Holiday and Alamo, all of which would create an exciting match up with a representative of the Southeastern, Pac-10 or Big Ten conferences.
For the moment, the focus must be on what can be, not on what might be. What is reality is that Texas has one game remaining and that is against its biggest rival, Texas A&M.
And as far as the bowl picture is concerned, the Longhorns are hanging in the right neighborhood. They just need to concentrate on beating the Aggies and then see who invites them over to dinner.