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College Sports: Talk of the Texas Longhorns’ path to the College Football Playoff seems wildly premature, but it really isn’t

In a rivalry that goes back to before Oklahoma was actually a state, Texas fans always have been able to enjoy their team’s victories over the Sooners (when these things occurred) for months. Some might call it bragging rights for an entire year. And that’s what is gone from college football in 2018.

Call it Big 12 greed or Big 12 paranoia. Either way, Texas’ reward for beating the Sooners — if things continue to go really well for UT — is, in all likelihood, a rematch with Oklahoma on Dec. 1. That is the opportunity that lies ahead if both teams keep winning. A revenge game for the Sooners without the 50-50 fan split in the Cotton Bowl (although it would likely be something very close to that at AT&T Stadium).

In some ways, this seems like getting way ahead of the story. Texas’ No. 7 ranking in the AP poll still feels slightly mythological. It wasn’t that long ago that the Longhorns kicked off another season by losing to Maryland. It wasn’t that long ago that coach Tom Herman’s defiance about this defeat, his whole “if you can’t see the difference” speech, sounded incredibly hollow and misguided.

The Longhorns have ripped off six straight wins since that opener, matching a 2013 streak in Mack Brown’s final season that produced no more than an 8-5 record. In this case, wins over Oklahoma, TCU, Southern Cal, Kansas State and Baylor — all impressive in their own way — have propelled the Longhorns into the nation’s top 10. Since the 2009 national championship game with Alabama, Texas has finished only one season with any kind of ranking at all, and that was 19th after going 9-4 in 2012.

So, yes, talk of what Texas needs to achieve in order to earn its way into the College Football Playoff seems wildly premature. But it really isn’t, given what transpired around the nation last Saturday and what lies ahead for so much of Texas’ competition.

With Georgia, Penn State, West Virginia and Washington losing, the Longhorns jumped to seventh in the AP poll, which is probably our best guide for now. The first CFP rankings will appear Oct. 30. But of those teams ranked ahead of Texas, No. 1 Alabama is going to play No. 5 LSU and No. 2 Ohio State will face No. 6 Michigan in the coming weeks. Those situations will clarify themselves.

Texas’ bigger problem could be the committee’s general love for the SEC and whether or not teams like Florida and Georgia (dare I say Kentucky?), currently ranked behind the Longhorns, could sneak by them when the CFP folks get together.

It would be unfair — Texas’ wins are more impressive than those teams’ lists of victims except perhaps for Florida having beaten LSU — but that’s also unfinished business. There are more games to be played, much work to be done in the season’s final five or six weeks.

Texas’ schedule is mostly favorable the rest of the way. If you were going to pick two teams to play in Austin, one would certainly be West Virginia and Iowa State would probably be the other. That leaves a trip to Lubbock as the toughest game, on paper, remaining on the Longhorns’ schedule.

Let’s say this team that has come together so quickly — really I think it all happened in the second half of the USC game — continues to roll. If Texas were to win its last five conference games and finish the regular season with an 11-game winning streak, I don’t have any doubt this team would rank in the committee’s top four. You can construct a scenario where Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Notre Dame win the rest of their games, but I’m just telling you these long victory runs and unbeaten seasons that seem possible in October fall apart in November.

Texas will be in the top four if it gets to 11-1. But after what happened with Baylor and TCU getting passed over by the Buckeyes four years ago, the Big 12 fell in love with the notion of that 13th data point that only a conference title game could provide. That means the only “power five” conference that plays a full schedule also plays the only 1 vs. 2 game at the end of the regular season.

And, assuming Oklahoma gets that Mike Stoops defense cleaned up, it probably means Sooners vs. Longhorns on Dec. 1. That’s great for business and ratings. For Texas, it simply means beating the Sooners twice is now part of the modern equation for getting where it’s hoping to go.

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