Moving the goalposts

Moving the goalposts: UT Austin's biggest game is here — and totally meaningless

UT Austin's biggest game is here — and totally meaningless

University of Texas cheerleader football game
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In September 2006, the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes came to Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium to play the No. 2-ranked Texas Longhorns. Thirteen years ago, the defending national champion Horns were starting a freshman quarterback who wasn’t even rated one of the top 50 high school players in Texas, while Ohio State had Troy Smith in his Heisman year. Though Texas beat the Buckeyes the previous season on a six-point reception by Limas Sweed that was anything but immaculate, it didn’t really have anything left to prove, and a pissed-off (and favored) Ohio State won 24-7.

But Saturday's home game against the Louisiana State University Tigers could be an even bigger contest against a non-conference foe. After all, the current burnt orange crew didn’t just come off beating USC in the greatest college game of all time. They have everything to prove.

If the 2019 Horns were a rock band, this season would be called “The Validation Tour,” and the first show is scheduled for Saturday, September 7, following last week’s soundcheck.

What makes this game against No. 6 LSU such a compelling matchup is that No. 9 Texas hasn’t been this good this early in 10 years. It’s like if you’ve been involuntarily celibate for a decade and then, well, let’s just say you go 1-0 with a Del Valle 7. Isn’t that better than just the latest in a series of one-night stands?

This isn’t a rematch game. And it’s not a rivalry. We just hate LSU and want to wipe that etouffee-crusted smirk right off their faces. Remember the Alameaux! Wait, that moral victory was a bad analogy.

Just as Sixth Street on a weekend makes Bourbon Street look like Fifth Street on a weekday, the Horns have gotta get psycho on a massive, no-nonsense team that always looks more like they bulked-up at the state penitentiary, not the state institution of book-learnin' in Baton Rouge. We’ll take a hard-fought loss, but we can’t handle a World Star ass-kicking.

The good news for UT is that they’re 6.5-point underdogs, a situation Coach Tom Herman loves even more than his Mensa bonafides. Being slighted makes the struggle more heroic. “Nobody gave us a chance,” they'll say. The pressure is on the favorites to deliver. The point-spread has risen so much since the "pick 'em" of a week ago that President Trump takes credit for it.

But bookmakers are leaning LSU's way because first, they've got eight players on the preseason all-SEC team, and second, UT’s lone five-star freshman Jordan Whittington is out for four to six weeks.

With a depth chart that’s starting to resemble Herman’s hairline, this team has more question marks than the Riddler’s closet. What if Keaontay Ingram trips over his unnecessary “a” and pulls a muscle? Will the Fighting Tigers of the trenches turn on our Greenhorns like they're Siegfried & Roy? Will Sammy the Forty Acres Mule outduel the Burrow, Joe of LSU, his QB doppelganger? 

Perhaps the biggest query: Can our No. 11 throw into a pair of consensus All-American defensive backs, Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton, without having to then make an open-field tackle? Or will our tremendous safeties Brandon Jones and Caden Sterns make the plays that return “DBU” to its rightful place?

Texas started calling itself the initials for “Defensive Back University” around 2005, when Michael Huff and Aaron Ross won back-to-back Thorpe Awards as college football’s best DBs. But when Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne duplicated that feat in 2010 and 2011, LSU tried to steal our nickname. Sorry, Tigers, but you can call yourself “the Safety School,” just as students applying for Tulane do.

How badass can a team be that comes out to a Garth Brooks song? Still, there's one important tip for Texas in this short poem: "Stingley, he will sting thee." Avoid kicking to the nation's top recruit Derek Stingley Jr.!

And hit LB K'Lavon Chaisson, whose Galena North Shore team beat Ehlinger's Westlake in the high school state championship, in his ever-yapping mouth. Remember your mantra: practice hard, play harder, and you'll make us proud.

The atmosphere inside and outside the stadium on Saturday will be unlike anything Austin’s seen since Lady Gaga played Stubb's during SXSW, though there'll be more vomit. New athletic director Chris Del Conte has done a lot to add excitement, including the free Longhorn City Limits concerts (country band Midland plays at 5 pm on the LBJ Library lawn before the game), to a crowd that sometimes responds like they're at a Lana Del Rey concert.

LSU lunatics tailgate like they invented it, so look for a lot of back-and-forth (”Barbecue!” “Gumbo!”) in perimeter parking lots. With a 6:30 pm kickoff, that's a whole day of pre-kickoff partying. If fans had to pass breathalyzers to enter the stadium, the stands would look like the Tampa Bay Rays were playing.

Since this is the biggest game of the week, ESPN’s top-rated College GameDay is desking in Austin for the first time since 2009. It's been so long, producers were trying to reserve Las Manitas for a pre-game meal.

You just know Lee Corso’s gonna put on the big Tiger head to signify his choice, but his sidekick Kirk Herbstreit has picked Texas as the Big 12 Champion over Oklahoma. (The LSU game is actually meaningless in UT achieving its No. 1 goal.) Herby has seen something different in the Herman years. (I refuse to use the word "culture" to describe a football team.)

“Even when they were winning in their dominant years with Mack Brown, that was not what I would call an intimidating atmosphere in Austin,” Herbstreit said in an interview. “They’ve made some inroads to making that a very difficult place to play.”

In the least-biggest surprise since Rolling Stone loved a new U2 album, Matthew McConaughey will be the guest picker on GameDay.

Meanwhile, I'm getting ready by listening to my favorite Randy Newman album Good Ol' Boys. That's the one that has that line about "College men from LSU, went in dumb, come out dumb, too."