If the No. 25 Texas Longhorns' 2013 football season were a ride, there is little question it would be a roller coaster and only a few may dispute that.
In coach Mack Brown's 16-year tenure, some season's have felt more familiar than others in terms of "Oh yeah, we've been here before." But the 2013 version is unlike any other.
Every 12-game season can be divided into thirds, where four-game spans can allow for focus to be redistributed and re-calibrated when necessary. And for Texas, those adjustments were absolutely necessary.
So as the Longhorns (8-3, 7-1) are set to battle No. 9 Baylor (10-1, 7-1) in the harsh cold for at least a share of the Big 12 Title, let us rewind and observe the 'Horns from 10,000 feet.
The First Third: Austin is Burning
The 56-7 win over New Mexico State was nice and all, but it served as the foundation for what would happen in the next two games. Quarterback Andrew McDonald was just about average through the air, but his 50 yards on the ground was the warning sign for trouble.
Effectively, the New Mexico State game provided plenty of kindling for what was coming.
As the Longhorns rolled to victory via a 42-point second half in the opener, their next two games served as the fire-starter to everything bad about their 1-2 start.
Texas gave up 550 rushing yards against BYU, 259 of which came from QB Taysom Hill. With three touchdowns on the night, Hill's performance set the stage for a landmark decision in Texas football.
Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the first time Brown has ever let go of an assistant midseason. Enter Greg Robinson.
The following week, Ole Miss rolled into town and rolled the Longhorns with ease.
The Rebels scored the first 14 points. Texas responded with 23 unanswered and held a six-point lead at the half.
But with a 27-0 second-half scoreboard, the Longhorns looked all but lost. The defense was in shambles. The fanbase was questioning every decision. The defense improved but only because the comparable performances were that bad.
Was another 5-7 season on the horizon?
A week later, the Longhorns began Big 12 play with an immeasurable amount of uncertainty.
Instead, Texas exorcised one of its biggest demons in Brown's tenure with a 31-21 win over Kansas State, Texas' first win over the Wildcats since 2003.
At 2-2, the state of affairs were hardly fixed, but at least the taste of victory filtered through the program.
The Second Third: Rising from the Ashes
Texas' next four games came at Iowa State, vs. Oklahoma in Dallas, at TCU and in a home game against Kansas.
Needless to say, the matchup against the Sooners would steal all the headlines, but not after barely getting by the Cyclones 31-30.
Riding a two-game winning streak, the Longhorns did a complete 180 against Oklahoma.
All of the sudden, a physical Texas team ran the ball 60 times and racked up 255 rushing yards in a game that was 36-13 with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Texas was riding a high, but would it last?
Consecutive wins over the Horned Frogs and the Jayhawks were mostly unmoving, winning 30-7 and 35-13, respectively. But the defensive improvements were what shined most above anything else.
Led by Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed on the end, Texas' defensive line was becoming more dominant by the game.
Into November, suddenly Texas was riding a five-game winning streak with bowl eligibility under its belt.
The Final Third: Taking Flight
In Coach Brown's first-ever overtime game at Texas, he came away victorious.
A 47-40 triumph against West Virginia in Morgantown may be Texas' most exciting game it will play this season, but it pushed Texas' streak to six games with a huge meeting with Oklahoma State looming the following week.
Running the table with three games remaining would have almost certainly earned the Longhorns a Big 12 title, but a better OSU team came into Austin to reshape the final weeks with a 38-13 rout that could have been much worse for the home side.
Texas drew a blank defensively against the Cowboys, earning no sacks and no quarterback hits as Oklahoma State did pretty much everything it wanted to do. Oh, and OSU QB Clint Chelf ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
With the winning streak snapped, the 'Horns re-established their title hopes with a 41-16 pounding of Texas Tech, a team that has lost five straight to finish the year after a 7-0 start, on Thanksgiving night.
And now with confidence running high once again following a nine-sack performance from the Texas defense, the Longhorns will travel to barely with the belief that they can come away with at least a share of the Big 12 Title.
The Bottom Line
The Longhorns have had an amazing 2013 season, one that has been littered with disappointment, probably some finger-pointing, a firing and a litany of depth-plaguing injuries.
After the 1-2 start burnt a huge hole in Texas' preseason expectations, the 'Horns have elevated their play at every level, impressively salvaging a season that easily could have gotten worse.
Credit to the staff and the players for resetting with a never-say-die attitude, but their biggest test is just around the corner.
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