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COMMENTARY: KIRK BOHLS

Texas is ripe for an upset

Huskers are out for some payback today.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Call it a hunch and hopefully a wrong one.

I'm calling today's game Nebraska 31, Texas 27.

Don't kill the messenger or even maim him, please, but these old bones just have a feeling the fifth-ranked Longhorns might get their comeuppance in Lincoln. Then again, it could be bursitis.

Today may be the day for payback.

The Cornhuskers think it's long overdue.

Texas has been the jock itch in Nebraska's football program ever since Texas shoved its way into this new-fangled league that's still celebrating its 10th anniversary.

And it's been nothing but misery ever since for Big Red, which still has the classiest fans in all of college football and a tradition-rich program we sincerely hope remakes itself into the Nebraska of old. College football without a strong Nebraska is like Miami Hurricane opponents without pepper spray.

What's interesting is former Nebraska athletic director Bill Byrne's first choice to replace the retiring Tom Osborne after 1997 was a North Carolina coach named Mack Brown, but Osborne had already handpicked his right-hand man, Frank Solich. "If he had offered it to me," Brown said, "I would have taken it."

Fortunately, Byrne never had the chance. Today, we'll see if Bill Callahan was the right hire by Byrne's successor, Steve Pederson.

Texas is the better team of the two and is rightfully favored to win. It has more playmakers on both sides of the ball, more experience lately on such a big stage and a bigger swagger, maybe too much strut.

But four factors support the idea of an upset, not including the prospects of weather better suited for an Iditarod:

•Texas isn't a great running team (only a good one) and eschews runs up the middle for fear Selvin Young and Jamaal Charles won't hold up over an entire season. Eliminate this year's Rice game, and Young's longest run is 30 yards against Ohio State. Charles' is 22 yards versus Iowa State. Ordinary numbers.

•Texas' pass defense is very suspect. Because of injuries, suspensions and inconsistency, the Longhorns have been subpar. They miss Michael Huff and Cedric Griffin much more than anyone thought. Three teams have thrown for 269 yards or more against them, two of them for 300-plus. Texas has allowed nine touchdown passes, one fewer than it gave up in 13 games last year.

•Greg Johnson has kicked one field goal all year. As solid as he has been, I wouldn't bet the ranch on his making a critical kick in bad elements late in the game. Just hasn't had to do it yet.

•Nebraska wants it more. This is purely subjective, but the Cornhuskers should have a greater sense of urgency because they've played in one Big 12 championship game in the past eight years. That's very un-Husker-like.

There's this nagging notion that the Cornhuskers may finally shed the yoke of subservience that they've been forced to wear ever since the Longhorns barged into their lives and upset the natural order.

After all, Texas has had Nebraska's number for a while, extenuating circumstances or not.

Texas has beaten Nebraska with the run (353 yards in 2003) and with the pass (419 yards in 2002). It has beaten Nebraska with John Mackovic and Mack Brown. It has beaten Nebraska in St. Louis, in Austin, in Lincoln. (We don't talk about San Antonio.)

It knocked off the Huskers in the inaugural Big 12 football championship game at St. Louis to deprive Nebraska of a shot at another national title in 1996. Roll left bring back any memories? (We know, we know, the Huskers all had the flu.)

Texas shattered Nebraska's 47-home game winning streak when upstart Major Applewhite played flawlessly, and Ricky Williams made a strong case for the Heisman in 1998. (It helped that Frank Solich started Monte Christo and wasn't smart enough to start Eric Crouch, who later won some award.)

Four years later in Lincoln, Roy Williams caught a school-record 13 passes from Chris Simms, and that Solich fellow disdained an easy game-tying field goal only to have his quarterback throw a pass to Longhorn Nate Vasher near the end zone. (Frank, Frank, Frank. We're detecting a pattern here.)

Texas beat the Huskers and butter-fingered Correll Buckhalter in Austin in 2003, when Nebraska fumbled the ball all over the lot at Royal-Memorial Stadium. (Goodbye, Frank.)

Yes, and Texas stole the league headquarters, too, and stuck it in Irving. (Frank had absolutely nothing to do with it.)

Texas, Texas, Texas. Nebraska has had it up to here with Texas.

Frankly speaking, now is the time for payback, assuming the Cornhuskers' banged-up offensive line holds up and can protect quarterback Zac Taylor against Texas' strong pass rush.

I do wonder when Colt McCoy throws three interceptions on the road.

I wonder when the Longhorns' pass defense costs it like it did against Ohio State. Deon Beasley isn't Tarell Brown.

I wonder when Texas' inability to pound away at a defense's underbelly and control the clock and the momentum will hurt it.

I wonder if that day is today.

kbohls@statesman.com

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