Why Mack Brown, Texas May Actually Have Just Enough to Win the Big 12

Alex SimsCorrespondent IIIOctober 3, 2013

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 21:  (L-R) Head coach Mack Brown of the Texas Longhorns talks with Bill Snyder of the Kansas State Wildcats before a game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 21, 2013 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

When the Texas Longhorns were thumped in consecutive weeks by BYU and Ole Miss, head coach Mack Brown's tenure was roasted, the flavor cooked out and the edges burnt.

It was only a matter of time before Nick Saban, Will Muschamp, Chris Petersen, Art Briles or whoever else would be in Austin as the head of college football's most valuable team.

But despite the poor start and the announcement of the impeding departure of athletic director DeLoss Dodds, Brown remained on the sidelines and UT started its quest for a Big 12 Conference title.

And in its conference opener against Kansas State, Texas actually won, 31-21.

After the victory, Brown relayed a simple message to his team: "It's not worth playing football if you lose."

Previous Big 12 title-favorite Oklahoma State learned that the hard way when it lost its conference opener to West Virginia, which made the already-balanced title race even more wide open.

With that standing as the mantra for the 'Horns going forward, the sky hasn't quite fallen on Brown and his squad just yet—they still have a shot at the league crown.

Texas will continue on its quest this Thursday when it heads on the road to take on Iowa State.

Defense will be the key for the Longhorns in Ames and beyond, and it was the biggest difference between their victory over K-State and their losses to Ole Miss and BYU.

The Cougars ripped UT for 550 rushing yards at a rate of 7.6 yards per carry in the 40-21 fiasco. The following week, Mississippi racked up 272 rushing yards and averaged 6.0 yards per run to beat Texas 44-23.

Those results left the 'Horns with little to look forward to or rely on for the remainder of the season. However, they made a consummate turnaround the next week against K-State, holding the defending Big 12 champion Wildcats to just 115 yards on the ground and 3.0 yards per carry. No KSU rusher even reached 50 yards on the ground in the UT victory.

Just like that, Texas could play defense again.

Brown will still be coaching from the edge of a cliff as this season plays out, but a Big 12 title could be enough for the national-title-winning coach to stay in power.

Offense hasn't been too much of an issue for the 'Horns, who rank in the top 40 in the nation in passing, rushing and total yardage.

Though they do rank No. 3 in the Big 12 in total offense, the 'Horns don't quite have the offense of a team like Baylor and can't just depend on pouring 50-plus points on an opponent every game.

As a result, efficiency is key and has been all year.

UT is taking care of the ball at a high level, ranking No. 12 nationally in turnover margin and total turnovers lost. The Longhorns have been taken for just four turnovers in four games and are at a plus-five margin for the year, averaging a positive turnover margin of 1.25 per game.

An efficient and balanced attack will be enough to give Texas a chance to win some ballgames—provided its defense holds up.

Against BYU and Ole Miss, it didn't do that, but it did against KSU.

That kind of total effort will give the 'Horns a chance to beat just about any team in the Big 12, including Baylor, Oklahoma State and even archrival Oklahoma.

No team in the Big 12 has looked anywhere near unbeatable, except for perhaps Baylor, who hasn't played a BCS conference opponent yet.

So at this early point in the season, the Big 12 title is still up for grabs.

Think of that and a BCS berth as a bottle of A.1. Steak Sauce that could put some flavor back into Brown's well-done steak.

All 10 Big 12 teams are still reaching for that bottle, including the Longhorns.