For years, Thanksgiving week in Texas meant the annual holiday contest against Texas A&M. While the Aggies have left for the SEC, the Longhorns didn't have to go far to find a replacement on the schedule.
Texas Christian was a long-time rival of the Longhorns when both schools were in the Southwest Conference. But when that league died, the schools went their separate ways … until the departure of the Aggies, and the Missouri Tigers, left the Big 12 with openings to fill.
It was natural that the Horned Frogs would slip into Texas A&M's slot on the schedule, and the game is again critical to the Longhorns. With an 8-2 record and two games against ranked teams remaining, Texas' postseason fate will be determined by its finish.
If the Longhorns win out, it could still take a share of the Big 12 title and perhaps reach a BCS berth. If not, or if it splits the last two, it could wind up in the Cotton Bowl against LSU, or perhaps old friend Texas A&M. A pair of losses, however, would leave Texas in a lesser bowl that wouldn't make the fans happy.
Both coach Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz were under fire following blowout losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma, a 56-50 escape against Baylor, and a 21-17 last-minute win against woeful Kansas. A pair of wins over Texas Tech and Iowa State have the bandwagon back on the road, but the Thanksgiving date with a new holiday opponent will go a long way to determining whether it stays there.
• Kicker Anthony Fera was expected to solidify a position of weakness when he transferred from Penn State before the season started. But Fera was injured early and has been inconsistent since earning the starting job. Nick Jordan replaced him during the Iowa State game, and the two will likely continue battling for the coaches' confidence down the stretch.
• Long snapper Nate Boyer is the first recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award. The honor, given by the Football Writers Association of America, is given to an individual or group that has brought distinction and recognition to both the military and college football.
• David Ash is only a sophomore, but he's already in ninth place on the Longhorns career passing list. With 3,433 yards, he passed Bobby Layne and Garrett Gilbert in the victory over Iowa State.
SCOUTING THE TCU OFFENSE: TCU had difficulty getting jumpstarted against Kansas State on Nov. 10, settling for a 35-yard field goal on fourth-and-16 with 6:59 remaining to avert a shutout. The Horned Frogs later added a touchdown off a late fumble recovery. Still, productivity was spotty at best in the 23-10 defeat. With 138 yards in the fourth quarter, TCU managed more than half its production in that period once the outcome was decided. RB Matthew Tucker was a consistent threat, which was encouraging, but the Horned Frogs must play with a lead to capitalize fully on their ground attack.
SCOUTING THE TCU DEFENSE: No matter what conference TCU is associated with, defense will always be a staple for a team coached by Gary Patterson. The high-flying Big 12 presents a difficult challenge, yet the Frogs have emerged as one of the top defenses in the league. Their effort solving Kansas State's balanced attack was one of the best the Wildcats faced all season, as they were held to 260 yards. Nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage keyed the effort, and standouts such as DE Devonte Fields, CB Jason Verrett and FS Elisha Olabode continue to establish themselves as some of the best defenders in the Big 12. All are underclassmen.
THREE HORNED FROGS TO WATCH
DE Devonte Fields-True freshman defensive end Devonte Fields tops the Big 12
in tackles for loss (15 1/2) and is third in sacks (8), trailing
Meshak Williams (K-State) and Alex Okafor (Texas) by a half
sack for the conference lead.
QB Trevone Boykin-Only a redshirt freshman, Boykin was thrown into action when Casey Pachall was suspended for the year. Boykin has shown an ability to make big plays and he can also do enough damage with his legs to keep the Texas defense honest. He has made some mistakes when pressured so Texas could have a chance to force a turnover or two.
WR Josh Boyce-The Horned Frogs have some players who can do damage in space, something Texas has struggled with at times this year. Boyce leads the team with 56 catches for 756 yards and 7 TDs, including a 94-yard strike against West Virginia. Boyce is one of just three players nationally to have at
least 600 yards receiving and six receiving touchdowns in the
last three seasons.
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Play it even - Texas would appear to be the slightly better team on paper and this game is in Austin, so the Horns have an obvious advantage there. If Texas
2. Avoid the trap - This game will be TCU's Super Bowl, and the Horns have to worry about looking ahead to Kansas State. Texas has to match TCU's intensity early.
3. Get 'em on the ground - Offenses have had success making the Texas defense miss tackles in space, and TCU is one of the better teams in the conference in this area. The Longhorns need to keep up their recent tackling efforts.