The Texas Longhorns are tip-toeing on the thinnest of ice sheets as they continue to look nothing like a veteran team that returned 19 starters from a season ago would look.
Before the season began, the hype machine was in full force around the 40 Acres. For Texas, it was Big 12 Title and BCS or bust. For the fans, it was the aforementioned, plus a win over Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl.
For Mack Brown, it was all of the above.
Now with the Longhorns five games into the season, their 3-2 record hardly screams conference champion or BCS contender. But with one of the most puzzling 2-0 starts to its Big 12 campaign, Texas indeed controls its own destiny, but destiny will face off against the noisy neighbors to the north this weekend. And history has not been so kind to destiny in recent years.
The Longhorns are riding a three-game losing streak to the Sooners, the last two of which coming in blowout fashion.
Brown is unequivocally in the hot seat after a wobbly start to the season, and there is more than Big 12 Titles at stake this weekend.
Will Bob Stoops get the best of Brown and effectively send him packing in Austin?
Writing on the Wall
From 10,000 feet, the Longhorns cannot feel extremely confident going into Dallas this weekend.
Quarterback David Ash has already been ruled out of the contest. Receiver Mike Davis continues to nurse an ailing ankle injury. Right tackle Josh Cochran and right guard Mason Walters both have sustained injuries that have forced them to miss time. Who knows just how healthy running back Daje Johnson is?
The Texas offense is fighting off the injury bug, but it may have bitten far too hard as it forces the ball into the more limited hands of Case McCoy.
Defensively, what is there to say? Texas is not in good shape.
The front four is playing well, at times, but the linebackers, again, look to be in shambles without Jordan Hicks for the rest of the season.
Texas cannot stop any quarterback who is a decent threat to run, and Oklahoma's Blake Bell is an absolute bruiser of a runner. Do not think for a minute that the read-option is not a part of the Sooners game plan on Saturday.
Let's be real. Stoops has owned Brown in the last three matchups, and there is not much to say that Brown's Longhorns can suddenly turn into a physically dominant team. It just isn't in the cards.
Stoops has proved plenty of times that he can plan for what Texas can and cannot do, and as limited as Texas has looked on both sides of the ball, preparing for the Longhorns should not be too taxing, one would imagine.
Since 2000, Stoops is 9-4 against Brown.
Not for a moment will we forget how Brown got Texas back to the top with a national championship and a couple more BCS wins to back it up. But those days are all over, it seems.
But not all hope is lost.
If Brown and Texas can conjure up some magic and snap the three-game losing skid to the Sooners, suddenly the Longhorns are 3-0 in the Big 12 with a potentially ultra-invigorating triumph over Oklahoma with matchups at TCU, vs. Kansas and at West Virginia on the board. These are not gimmes by any stretch, but if Texas finds itself on offense (somehow), it may be the launching point to an even more interesting final third of the season.
If Brown and Texas are absolutely meant to have the Big 12 this season, it will start with a special outing in Dallas.
The Crystal Ball
All signs point to bad news for Brown and his Longhorns. Injuries, poor defense, limited offense, poor defense. Not the headline-material that brings a ton of promise.
Texas has its pieces, though. Johnathan Gray has proven to be an excellent tailback. Daje Johnson may be the most explosive player on either team's roster. Mike Davis poses a threat, even when hobbled by injury.
But what of third-string freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes? Many expected to see him against Kansas State and Iowa State, but to no avail. Swoopes has the dual-threat ability that adds an extra wrinkle that no one has seen, but will Texas burn his redshirt?
This much is certain, though. The roller coaster ride is far from over.