AUSTIN, Texas -- This is Texas so every game is that much bigger and means that much more.
It's a program that doesn't list with wins and losses, it plummets or soars. Those who are in it have come to expect such schizophrenic highs and lows from fans even if their performances of late -- the last three years -- have done nothing to dissuade the jagged mood swings of their following.
In fact, it would be easier if the emotions of thousands didn't rest with so few. But around here every game, yes even a game in the Valero Alamo Bowl matters. And fans want to believe the game matters to those who are in it as well.
It does. Not because of who Texas is playing -- although No. 13 Oregon State would give Texas a much-needed notch on its belt -- but because of who Texas has been and where the coach continually claims it is going.
While the ultimate validation that coach Mack Brown's stump speeches about progress haven't been an attempt to hornswoggle donors and fans, would be a win over Oklahoma -- and no, keeping it under 30 points in 2013 doesn't count as a win although it would be progress -- walking off into the haze of 2012 with a ninth win would serve as a brief reprieve from the criticism and some fuel for a program who has allowed its fire to dwindle to ash.
That's why when Brown says: "We have so much motivation," he has to be taken at his word. This program cannot suffer through an offseason after a season in which there was no tangible improvement. Much less more coaching changes if the defense significantly adds to its ignominious stature as the worst in program history by allowing more yards to be piled against it.
The program is in too fragile a state right now. One blow in the wrong direction would send it teetering over the edge to a fracture mess. And all of DeLoss Dodds' men would not be able to put it back together again. At least not before 2013.
Sure it's a doom-and-gloom look worn rather comfortably by now by the sky-is-falling crowd. And while it is a bit too histrionic, it is better than walking through these downtrodden Texas times with a head firmly affixed in the clouds and fingers busy counting money. (Texas is the most valuable football program in the country with an estimated worth of $133 million, according to Forbes. Texas, Georgia and Tennessee are the only three programs in the top 10 who have not been to a BCS game in the past two seasons or are not going this year. Georgia lost in the SEC title game the past two seasons.)
Texas has to accept the reality that if it losses to Oregon State it is caught in an eddy from which it cannot escape by simply employing a new crew of better athletes. None of those guys are at the helm, after all.
A loss not only sounds the alarm even louder than its current ear-piercing state about Brown, but also bring more question about the quarterback as in who the heck is it? It's become a topic whose tiresome nature is only trumped by the ineptitude displayed by the coaching staff in settling the position.
Now new/old co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite has handed the keys to David Ash. Ash's formula for keeping that position is rather simple and straightforward, much like the player himself -- "Win," he said.
Ah, well, how novel. But how true as well.
If Ash does win, it settles so much for Texas. Presumably the coaches have learned from their mistakes and if Ash walks away a winner they will allow him to go through the offseason as the starter, not twisting in the wind as they did after his win in the Holiday Bowl.
Ash was unable to assume a leadership role for the program in the 2012 offseason because, quite frankly, he didn't know if he was the leader. That set the position, the player and the team back. Clear evidence of that lack of progress manifested itself in the tough times against OU, Kansas and TCU. Ash wasn't at his best and didn't have the summoning power born through eight months of leadership to force his team to rally despite his shortcomings on those Saturdays.
A win at least affords this team the opportunity to have the leader it has so clearly been missing every offseason since Colt McCoy left. Maybe Ash isn't perfectly suited for that role, what with his reserved demeanor. But a win would prove he is the best Texas has at the moment.
It would also prove that maybe, for once over what has been a desolate three years, Texas has decided to seize the rather large moment it has before it.