No. 7 Texas has reeled off four straight wins since Oklahoma handed the Longhorns their only defeat, and losing this time of year isn’t an option if they want to accomplish their goals.
Same goes for Iowa State, which hosts the Longhorns in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday night.
“Another Big 12 championship game for us,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We put ourselves in this position over a month ago and we’ve accepted the challenge. I think our guys have responded to that. We’ll go into another hostile environment on Saturday night.”
Texas (9-1, 6-1 Big 12, CFP No. 7) is not just playing to reach the conference championship game in Arlington, Texas, on Dec. 2. The Longhorns also have hopes of making their first appearance in the College Football Playoff. They would need to win out and get some help to do it.
Iowa State (6-4, 5-2) clings to a slim chance of making the Big 12 title game. First, the Cyclones would have to beat Texas and then knock off Kansas State on the road next week. They also would need the right teams ahead of them to lose and prevail in tiebreakers.
“We want to play meaningful football in November, number one,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said. “Our kids understand where we want to be. We’ve said it from day one. We don’t need to talk about those things. We need to do it. I think sometimes you can talk, and sometimes you need to do.”
RED ZONE PERFECTION
Iowa State is the only team in the Big 12 to score every time it’s been inside the opponent’s 20-yard line in conference games. The Cyclones are 24 for 24 in the red zone, with 14 touchdowns and 10 field goals.
BAXTER’S BIG CHANCE
Texas freshman C.J. Baxter is back as the starting tailback after Jonathon Brooks was lost for the season to a knee injury last week. Baxter started the first two games against Rice and Alabama but was limited by foot and rib injuries and gave way to Brooks. Baxter enters the game with 390 yards rushing, including a 54-yard touchdown.
A dominant run defense has helped Texas build big leads. Trouble comes when the opponents start throwing the ball.
Oklahoma drove to the winning touchdown in the final minute of Texas’ only loss. Kansas State rallied from 20 points down to force overtime. Houston stormed back from a 21-point deficit to tie before the Longhorns won late. Last week, TCU cut a 20-point deficit to three and pushed the Longhorns to the limit again; Texas gave up 98 yards passing to TCU in the first half and 204 in the second.
Sarkisian called the trend “unacceptable.”
“We’re trying to be a dominant defense,” Sarkisian said. “We looked like a shell of our ourselves defensively. We need to stay aggressive in our play calls, we need to stay aggressive in style of play.”
Iowa State weathered the state investigation into illegal sports wagering by athletes, which led to the suspension of five starters, and a 1-2 start entering conference play. Offensive lineman Jarrod Hufford said it’s a big accomplishment to still be in the conference race.
“I think a lot of people, if you look back after the Ohio loss, they counted us out,” Hufford said. “What we’ve been able to do, especially on the road, and at home just show we are a resilient team and we’ll keep fighting. It’s very powerful. We’ve had some hiccups on the way — Oklahoma, Kansas. I don’t think that’s stopped us or our resolve.”
Texas kicker Bert Auburn has made 11 consecutive fields goals, including the game-winner in overtime against Kansas State and another fourth-quarter kick against TCU that proved to be the difference in the game.
“Inside 50, we feel very comfortable with Bert,” Sarkisian said. “It’s been two straight years that guy has made some really big kicks for us.”
AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno in Austin contributed.