The Texas football team’s 2020 season appeared to be heading off the rails after a shocking 1–2 start to conference play, but three straight victories after a loss to Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown have put the Longhorns in contention to play in the Big 12 Championship.
Following last Saturday’s 17-13 win over West Virginia, Texas is in a three-way tie for third place in the Big 12 with only three games left in the regular season. As evidenced by the 2018 team, which went 7–2 in conference play and made it to the Big 12 Championship, the Longhorns can secure a postseason berth with two conference losses if they win out.
The problem is Texas only has a 28.9% chance of doing so, according to ESPN’s College Football Power Index.
“I think the mindset of the team is that we understand what’s in front of us,” senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said after the win over West Virginia. “We have won some really close games, but we’re also not playing our best football. Which is encouraging but also frustrating at the same time because we know we’re not anywhere close to how good we can be, but we’re still finding ways to win.”
How the Longhorns handle their business in the next two weeks will determine their chances of beating Big 12 front-runner Iowa State and fellow No. 3-ranked Kansas State to end the year. Texas is heading into a much-needed bye week this weekend before traveling to face the 0–7 Kansas Jayhawks. This will provide the Longhorns with rest and then a ramp-up before the two most important games of the year.
Texas head coach Tom Herman highlighted the importance of the upcoming bye week and the nature of competition in the Big 12 following an uncomfortably close win against West Virginia.
“Guys, this is the way it’s going to be all year,” Herman told reporters Saturday. “We’re going to get better week by week. We got a ton better in the bye week leading up to the Baylor game. We’re a much different team at this point.”
With a Kansas State team reeling following two straight losses and the absence of senior playmaking quarterback Skylar Thompson, who is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, all eyes are firmly on the Longhorns’ Nov. 27 home matchup against Iowa State.
For Texas to play in the Big 12 Championship Game, a few things, both in and out of the team’s control, must happen. If conference leader Iowa State beats a floundering Kansas State team on Nov. 21 as expected, the Wildcats will drop out of the postseason race with three conference losses. Texas would then have to beat Iowa State to gain the tiebreaker over both the No. 1-ranked Cyclones and No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State due to head-to-head wins. The Longhorns would punch their ticket to the Big 12 Championship by beating Kansas State in the regular season finale.
If Texas makes the Big 12 Championship Game, its opponent will most likely be the winner of the Nov. 21 matchup between No. 18-ranked Oklahoma and No. 14-ranked Oklahoma State. An Oklahoma State loss would destroy the Longhorns’ conference championship hopes due to head-to-head tiebreakers. An Oklahoma loss would end the Sooners’ conference championship hopes with three conference losses.
This may seem complicated, but it’s rather simple: Texas needs to win out to guarantee a spot in the conference title game. If the Longhorns lose one game, they will need help from other teams to prevent Herman’s seat from getting hotter.