1. Mack Brown says Texas A&M's biggest improvement from last season is on defense.
The Aggies, who were the worst rush defense under Mike Sherman in Year 1, are the Big 12's best rush defense this season, giving up 114.9 yards per game on the ground.
A&M is the Big 12's fourth-best scoring defense (20.6 ppg). Texas is giving up 23.6 ppg.
Last year, Colt McCoy ran right through the A&M defense for 65 yards and a touchdown. No one caught him from behind. That defense was slow. Mack says that's changed.
"They're running better. They have tremendous quickness. They have a 3-4 defense very similar to what we run," Mack said. "They are 58 percent blitz. They're blitz numbers are more in the 30s when they bring an extra linebacker or defensive back into the front.
"Von Miller is playing great. He's legitimate. He's a factor in every game and hard to block. Seems like linebacker Michael Hodges is their spiritual leader on defense and is the leading tackler. This is a much better defense than the one we faced last year.
"I think that's been the biggest difference in their football team."
2. The top three reasons to go to a bowl game, according to Mack Brown are:
1 - You want your seniors to go to one because every senior class at Texas for the previous 12 years has.
"They'll want to be proud of going to four straight bowl games, or five, when they leave here," Mack said.
2 - The guys enjoy the trip. The team gets to stay together longer and it helps build camaraderie and chemistry.
3 3 From a coaching standpoint, you get an extra spring practice with between 13 and 15 practices depending on when the game is.
"It's a tremendous advantage," Mack said. "It's really helped us."
3. Mack said he's been watching to see if his players are still giving maximum effort. He feels like they are.
"We're looking at how everyone finishes the season and want to make sure they play hard," Mack said. "Sometimes on a bowl trip you always look to see how some of the guys projected to be first or second-round draft picks are working. Are they more worried about their health and future or are they worried about trying to win one more game?
"I can say those guys have played hard, and I see the same on this team right now. Everyone's fighting to get some respect back. They want to finish strong and take some momentum into the spring."
4. I asked Mack Brown what the message has been for the team this week.
"The message is, 'You made tremendous progress on Saturday and started climbing out of the hole we dug for ourselves,'" Mack said. "'You've shown you can play well enough to beat anybody, the day you beat Nebraska.
"We put it together as a team on Saturday and answered, protected the ball and forced turnovers and did the things in the kicking game to get field position. So it's there. We just have to pull it together and play as a team on Thursday night."
Mack said he's not playing up the underdog role this week (Texas A&M is a 4.5-point favorite on Thursday).
"I play up Texas and Texas A&M. It's a rival game. You know most of the folks involved in this game. It's senior day for our team," Mack said. "There should be plenty to get these guys going other than being an underdog."
5. LB Dustin Earnest said Mack Brown has been using all of the team-building tricks he can come up with. Before leaving the hotel for the Nebraska game, Mack had all the players drink an orange drink that he called the team's special juice. It seemed to work in the eyes of Sam Acho.
So before leaving the team hotel for the Florida Atlantic game, Acho asked if the team could all drink their plastic cups of special juice again. They did.
"I'd like to think there's special ingredients, but I think it's just Gatorade and Prime Endurance drink that happens to be orange," Earnest said.
Mack said he's tried just about everything to get this team going.
"You can only throw so much mud at the wall and see what sticks," Mack said. "I'm about out. I've got three wrist bands. I've got chains. I got everything. I have tried. I have a coin the military gave me. I had it in my back pocket, rubbing it for luck the whole time. I'm sure people thought that was weird. Then, we block a punt that rolls 53 yards."
6. Mack Brown said Case McCoy and Connor Wood will have an opportunity to compete for the quarterback's job in the spring.
But Mack was quick to say Garrett Gilbert's best game of the season was against Florida Atlantic.
"When you do better on the field, you can lead better. I think he felt like he made some progress in the Oklahoma State game and then played really well on Saturday (against Florida Atlantic) and got the guys to follow him more.
"I do think the seniors have stepped up and helped him, too. And the receivers are catching the ball better. They dropped six balls back there a game or two. And that's not happening as much anymore. I thought John Chiles and James Kirkendoll played their best games on Saturday.
"You look at Kirkendoll's big catch (for 63 yards) and Malcolm Williams' outstanding play on the Hail Mary before the half. That's 14 points we haven't been getting."
Mack said Gilbert has surprised him as a runner.
"Garrett has improved as much as a runner this season as anything," Mack Brown said. "He's a big, strong runner and a better runner than I anticipated.
7. The weather is supposed to be nasty on Thursday.
"It sounds like there's going to be a 15 to 20 mile per hour wind," Mack said. "It changes the kicking game more than anything else, but that can be huge for kickoffs and punts.
"Sounds like it's going to be in the 40s when the game starts and upper 30s at the end. So the weather may be a factor more in this game than with some others, because we've had a pretty good year with weather."
8. Mack said he wishes he could start the season over.
"For whatever reason, we missed some things early and the chemistry wasn't as good," Mack said. "I can't stand a team to stand around. As a head coach, you feel like a team takes on your identity every Saturday, and I wasn't proud to have my name attached to those two performances (UCLA and Iowa State).
"I've always said you can turn it over and mess up, but you've got to play hard. You can fix the things as long as you're playing hard. And that's why I sensed the things before the Iowa State game.
"We've come to grips with a lot of things. We're really back on track. I think we'll be fine for next year. I'm excited to see us play Thursday night because I want to see us continue with the same attitude we played with Saturday night (against Florida Atlantic)."
9. Mack is contemplating putting Curtis Brown back on punt returns once again.
"Curtis gives us the best chance to score because he was averaging nearly 14 yards per return," Mack said. "What we thought in last week's game is if we could get a lead, we'd put him back out there to help him regain his confidence because he might be able to help us (against Texas A&M) on Thursday.
"Their punting has been very sporadic. The average return has been like 3 or 4 yards because they do directional punting like we do. I didn't mean sporadic as much as it's hard to return their punts. We've had very few punts returned against us.
"We think he gives us the best chance to score. Obviously, he has struggled some with catching it. We wanted to get him in last Saturday to return one, but he banged up his shoulder and didn't play in the second half."
10. James Kirkendoll said the players' confidence is high enough to pull the upset of Texas A&M.
"We can win," he said. "We know what it takes to beat them. We beat them last year. It comes down to who is better that day. We have the tools to beat them. We just need to go out and do it.
"We're just going to go play it. We have to motivate ourselves in practice first. It's A&M. You have no choice but to get up."