Eyes in Texas will be upon Missouri

Wednesday, December 3, 2008 | 8:30 p.m. CST; updated 2:56 a.m. CST, Friday, December 5, 2008
Texas freshman Tim Liu cheers on the Longhorns against Texas A&M while wearing a sign showing the score of Texas' win over Oklahoma.

Less than a week later, Keshav Rajagopalan hasn’t forgotten. He is steadfast in the belief that his Texas Longhorns should appear in the Big 12 Conference championship football game in Kansas City rather than Oklahoma. An October score, “Texas 45, Oklahoma 35,” boils his anger and makes him cringe.

Come Saturday, Missouri will gain a fan south of the Red River. And there will be more.

"I want Missouri to slaughter them,” said Rajagopalan, a Texas senior and the school’s student body president. “I want them to beat them badly.”

Texas fans will pull for Missouri to achieve an upset against an Oklahoma team that stands one victory away from playing for the program’s eighth national championship. Some consider a Tigers’ victory at Arrowhead Stadium the only cure for the disappointment they experienced Sunday when they witnessed the Sooners clinch a Big 12 championship game berth by passing the Longhorns in the latest BCS rankings.

Texas’ head-to-head victory over Oklahoma wasn’t enough. In October, the Longhorns beat the Sooners in Dallas to gain an early advantage in the Big 12 South race. It appeared Texas would make its first Big 12 championship game appearance since 2005, when it won its second Big 12 crown en route to claiming the program’s fourth national championship. Since 1999, either Texas (three times) or Oklahoma (seven) has represented the Big 12 South in each conference championship game.

A three-way tie atop the division created complications. Texas (11-1), Oklahoma (11-1) and Texas Tech (11-1) each finished 7-1 in conference play. They lost to one another; aside from Texas’ victory over Oklahoma, Texas Tech beat Texas and Oklahoma beat Texas Tech.

The Big 12’s fifth tiebreaker was used for the first time in the conference’s 13-year history. It allows the highest-rated team in the BCS rankings to advance to the Big 12 championship game. On Nov. 23, Texas ranked second, only .0084 points ahead of then-No. 3 Oklahoma, which jumped two places by routing previously unbeaten Texas Tech the night before in Norman, Okla. Last Sunday, Oklahoma and Texas swapped spots in the BCS rankings after Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State on Saturday in Stillwater, Okla.

Oklahoma fans celebrated. They made plans for Kansas City. In the meantime, Texas fans fumed. They snarled: Remember what happened in Dallas?

“It's sort of like you go through the stages of depression – shock, anger, acceptance,” said Patrick Ryan, president of the Silver Spurs Alumni Association, the organization that cares for Bevo, Texas’ mascot. “Initially, I think people were furious at the system. Then people accepted it. Now, people are working on, 'This really can't happen any longer. There has got to be a playoff.'

"It's real upsetting. We beat both of the teams that are in the title game (Texas beat Missouri on Oct. 18). We feel like the team has done everything it can to prove themselves on the field.”

For Texas, there remains hope. A Missouri victory Saturday would probably place Texas in the BCS national championship game against either Florida or Alabama on Jan. 8 in Miami. No rule states that a team must win its conference to play for a national championship. During the 2001 season, Nebraska appeared in the national title game without winning the Big 12 North (Nebraska lost to Miami). Since the Big 12 began in 1996, four teams have been denied a chance to play for a national championship by losing in the Big 12 championship game (Nebraska in 1996, Kansas State in '98, Texas in 2001 and Missouri in '07).

Not many give Missouri a chance. The Tigers have never beaten the Sooners under eighth-year coach Gary Pinkel. Some consider the Sooners to be the nation’s hottest team, winners of six consecutive games during which they have outscored opponents by an average score of 60-31. In addition, Missouri will attempt to recover from a last-minute loss to archrival Kansas on Saturday.

"On the local talk radio shows and local talk sport channels, it has been pretty good fodder,” said Capt. Don Verett of the University of Texas police department. “On the campus itself, I think everybody is of the opinion that if we would have taken care of business and won all of our games, we wouldn't have to worry about who was in the championship.

"There's a lot of football left to be played, so we'll let it work out the way it's supposed to work out.”

Said David Thompson, president of the Texas Exes alumni group’s Austin chapter: “Oh God, that's just our last hope. We had been cheering last week for Oklahoma State. … And we'll be pulling for Missouri this week. There's tons of interest down here. We're definitely pulling for them.

"The Big 12 this year is up and down so much. Kansas beat Missouri last week. Maybe that was (Missouri’s) down week. Maybe this will be Missouri's up week.”

A Missouri victory would jolt Texas fans into jubilation.

Will it happen?

"I'm pretty optimistic,” Rajagopalan said. “I'm pulling for Missouri, for sure.”

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