ARLINGTON, Texas — If anybody should feel “Oklahoma fatigue,” if anybody in the Big 12 Conference should be dragged down by the Sooners’ four straight Big 12 championships, it’s the Texas Longhorns.
Texas, among college football’s proudest programs, last won a league title in 2009. OU, Texas’ fiercest rival, has won six since then. OU has won four in a row.
That means while all five Longhorns at AT&T Stadium on Tuesday for Big 12 Media Days have beaten the Sooners in October, none have experienced anything in December besides OU adding to its trophy case.
I wondered how they felt about that. Would they be irritated? Self-conscious? Close-mouthed?
Publicly, at least, the answer turned out to be “none of the above.”
They were considerate, practical.
“They’ve done an excellent job of winning. They’ve always found a way to win regardless of what their circumstances were,” said Sam Ehlinger, the quarterbacking face of the Longhorns. “It’s absolutely respect.”
“It’s unbelievable, man. Honestly just respect to those guys,” Texas receiver Collin Johnson said. “It’s a rivalry, but at the end of the day you give respect where it’s due. They’ve won the last four conference championships. They’re doing something right obviously.”
“You don’t just wake up one day and win four in a row. That’s where we want to get as a program,” said Zach Shackelford, the Longhorns’ All-Big 12 center. “That’s why it’s such a big game every year. We want to be where they are, y’know?”
That is as forthright as it gets from either side of the Red River.
It’s true, sure. The Sooners’ four-year run of conference titles, their collection of 12 belts overall, set an obvious standard.
But it’s one thing for Kansas to admit they are striving to meet it, and quite another for Texas.
Shackelford’s admission might not sit well with Longhorn fans, a group that becomes angst-ridden when they realize they’ve run out of Sauvignon Blanc at the reception. Imagine how they feel about OU’s conference death grip.
It should sit well with everyone else, with anyone who appreciates reflection. Reasonable folks should read it as a recognition of OU’s sustained excellence, not some lamentation of Texas failure.
“I respect what they do,” Longhorns safety Brandon Jones said. “You get what you deserve.”
In that vein the Horns asserted Tuesday they were working to get theirs.
“We tasted it a little bit here in the Big 12 championship game, but we couldn’t finish,” Johnson said of Texas’ 39-27 loss to the Sooners last Dec. 1. “We’ll continue to work hard and hopefully we’ll have another opportunity to play for the Big 12 championship, whether we see them (the Sooners) or whoever else. And just finish this time.”
The expectation among the players is they will finish, not that that’s a surprise.
“We have that experience of playing in this stadium. We know what it takes to win big-time games like the Sugar Bowl (28-21 over Georgia last Jan. 1). I couldn’t ask for a better position,” Johnson said. “We have that experience now, and we have that feeling walking off the field after losing that game (the ’18 Big 12 Championship). We were that close. We remember all that.
“It’s a perfect balance of motivation and experience.”
“I want the University of Texas to always be competing for championships,” Ehlinger said. “Right now we’re at a place in our program to have a chance to do that. That’s ultimately where I want us to be.”
He wants to be where the Sooners have been. Where the Sooners are, until someone knocks them from the Big 12 summit.
“I mean, you’ve gotta respect it. It’s on their resume,” Texas linebacker Malcolm Roach said. “They showed they know how to win.”
“They’re there for a reason,” Shackelford said of the Sooners. “Nothing but good things to say about them...
“It doesn’t drive me crazy. Rivalry teams typically don’t like each other, but my hat’s off to them for doing what they’ve done the past four years.”