AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Longhorns are seldom irrelevant in the national championship discussion. Yet here they are, unranked for the first time in a decade and needing a win at No. 5 Nebraska if they plan to have any impact on the Big 12 title, much less anything else.
The Longhorns (3-2) look at the trip to Lincoln as an opportunity.
"We're all fighting for the Big 12 (title). We're still in that fight," junior safety Blake Gideon said. "The only way to get it is to beat Nebraska."
Lose and the Longhorns are relegated to a regional afterthought with little opportunity to even play spoiler for the league contenders. They have already lost to No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 24 Oklahoma State is the only ranked team left on the schedule.
It was the loss to the Sooners on Oct. 2 that dropped Texas out of the AP rankings for the first time since 2000. Another one Saturday would give Texas its first three-game losing streak since the end of the 1999 season when Texas dropped its last two games before losing in the Cotton Bowl.
All this for a team that went 25-2 the previous two seasons and played for last season's national championship.
"Losing," wide receiver James Kirkendoll said, "is not a good feeling."
"I think it's just an excuse. I'm not giving in to that yet. I'll blame us as coaches. We've got enough good players," Brown said.
Brown hasn't lost three in a row in the regular season since 1989 when his second North Carolina team went 1-10.
Texas was off last weekend and Gideon said practice hit a level of intensity usually only seen in training camp.
"Very physical last week," Gideon said. "You could see the aggression in the coaches."
Texas concentrated on tackling after several miscues in losses to UCLA and Oklahoma. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez has game-breaking speed and set a Nebraska quarterback rushing record with 242 yards and four touchdowns in last week's blowout win over Kansas State.
Texas' problems go beyond tackling.
One of the most prolific offenses in the country over the last decade has been held under 30 points the last three games and the defense got chewed up on key drives by the Sooners and Bruins.
Last season, Texas scored a dozen times off kick returns, blocked punts or turnovers. So far this season, the Longhorns have only one and that came on a fumble return in the first game against Rice.
Brown said he wanted his team to use last week to refocus on the season.
"You lose part of yourself when you lose a football game," Brown said. "To lose two in two weeks is something we haven't done around here."
Texas lost its first two Big 12 games in 2007 and rebounded to finish 10-3 with a win over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl.
"We dealt with it in '07. I'm not new to this. It's not fun," Brown said. "You pull in tight. It's your family and you go back to work."