AUSTIN, Texas – In his first season in the Big 12, Texas coach Charlie Strong seems to have accepted his role as underdog this week against No. 7 Baylor.
"I don't have a choice,' Strong said with a laugh on Monday. "We're a (two-touchdown) underdog right now."
Some of his players, however, don't want to hear it.
"They're still Baylor," Longhorns wide receiver John Harris said. "Just because they started playing better, that's good for them. We're still Texas."
Not exactly. The burnt-orange helmet logos are the same but a lot has changed.
The Bears (4-0, 1-0) are the defending Big 12 champions, a crown earned by beating Texas (2-2, 1-0) in freezing cold on the final weekend of the 2013 regular season. Texas hasn't won the Big 12 since 2009, a drought that was a big reason why Mack Brown isn't the Longhorns coach anymore.
Since beating then-No. 1 Kansas State in 2012, the Bears are 19-2 and currently have the top-scoring offense in the country behind quarterback Bryce Petty and a receiving corps that is burning up secondaries. If they beat Texas again, the Bears will have won four of five against Texas. In a rivalry that dates to 1901, the only similar run of success for Baylor came from 1988-92.
While the players and fans certainly haven't accepted that Baylor has surpassed the Longhorns, Strong clearly recognizes that the rivalry has flipped and he is the one trying to catch up.
"We're going to have to play above our heads," Strong said. "They (Baylor) deserve every bit of it. If you watch their team, it's amazing to see how it's developed over the last three or four years."
Baylor represents a huge chance for Strong to make his mark on Texas. He took over a program that despite being loaded with blue chip recruits didn't have a player drafted by the NFL last season. Strong hasn't been afraid to take some of his best talent off the field, dismissing nine players so far because of rules violations or legal problems.
Strong suggested that two suspended potential starters, offensive tackle Desmond Harrison and wide receiver Daje Johnson, could return this week. Strong didn't say they would, but conceded he would meet with the players.
The Longhorns are coming off a 23-0 shutout over Kansas, which snapped a two-game losing streak. It was Texas' first road shutout since beating Baylor 62-0 in 2005, when the Longhorns won the national championship.
Strong also warned his team that things could get out of hand quickly against Baylor if the Longhorns come out as flat as they did in a 41-7 home loss to BYU. Saturday will be the first home game since that loss.
"If you don't play well, you can get totally embarrassed out there," Strong said.