Olin Buchanan Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
STILLWATER, Okla. - Throughout this season, questions have been raised about whether a dominant college football team existed. On Saturday night in Boone Pickens Stadium, that team was unmasked and its identity revealed.
In a 41-14 thrashing of Oklahoma State, third-ranked Texas avoided the drama of previous clashes with the Cowboys, erased doubts that arose in a slapstick 16-13 victory over Oklahoma two weeks ago and emerged as that dominant team.
"I think what this signals is this team has a chance to be really good," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We divide our season into three sections of four games. Two sections are gone. We've got one section left and that starts next week against (Central Florida).
"We're continuing to play for the Big 12 South championship and we're trying to get in the Big 12 championship game. We still have a lot at stake. We want to be the best team in the nation."
They certainly looked the part against 14th-ranked Oklahoma State, which was hoping to end an 11-game losing streak to Texas and seeking to get an inside track at its first conference championship since finishing in a three-way tie with Oklahoma and Colorado for the Big Eight title in 1976.
Texas' defense, ranked second in the nation, limited Oklahoma State to its lowest point total of the season. Texas forced five turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Quarterback Colt McCoy completed 16 of 21 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown, and played even better than his statistics indicated.
"That's a tough one. I don't know any other way to put it," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of McCoy. "I think they are a really good football team. They've got great skill and great speed. When you turn the ball over and make that many mistakes against a team that has got that much ability, it's very difficult to win the game."
The Longhorns, 8-0 and unchallenged in most of their games, have it all.
They have McCoy, who could be back in the Heisman discussion after a second consecutive strong performance. They have productive receivers, excellent special teams, a big-play defense with swagger and what appears to be a smooth path to Pasadena for the BCS national championship game.
The Longhorns' remaining schedule starts with UCF. Then, they play Baylor, which has managed just 34 points in its past four games, followed by Kansas, which has allowed 30-plus points in each of its past four games, and Texas A&M, the most generous defense in the Big 12. And as far as the Big 12 championship game goes ... well, Kansas State is leading the North Division race. That's the same team that lost to Louisiana-Lafayette.
"We've got to take it one game at a time," defensive end Sergio Kindle warned. "There's teams out there every week that lose to a nobody, so we only want to think about Pasadena if we got to that time or if we're in a position to be there."
Perhaps the only reason to doubt the Longhorns' ability to get there is a tendency in recent years to unexpectedly lose in November (to Kansas State and A&M in '06, to A&M in '07 and to Texas Tech in '08).
A rather mediocre rushing offense also is a concern. The Longhorns entered Saturday's game averaging 164 rushing yards per game but finished with just 99 against the Cowboys.
Seven of the previous eight national champions averaged at least 177 rushing yards per game, and three of the past four averaged more than 200.
But this season, the best teams have obvious warts. No team has shown to be unquestionably deserving of a No. 1 national ranking.
Some thought it was Florida until the Gators needed to rally past a mediocre Arkansas team, complete with some help from the refs.
Then, it appeared to be Alabama until the Tide's quarterback play ebbed and two blocked field goals were required to stave off Tennessee.
USC? That myth was put to rest by Oregon on Saturday night.
Warts and all, it's hard to argue against Texas, which ventured into a beautiful stadium, revamped thanks to the donations of billionaire T. Boone Pickens, and played like a million bucks.
Unlike many recent games with Oklahoma State, there was little drama, minimum tension and no need to rally. The Longhorns never trailed Saturday night.
Texas led 24-7 at halftime. The Cowboys' faint hopes of turning the tables on Texas with a monumental comeback were squashed in the first five minutes of the third quarter. The Longhorns drove for a 40-yard field goal to open the second half, then sophomore safety Earl Thomas picked off a Zac Robinson pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown to end any doubt.
"We try to put it in the end zone as much as possible," said Thomas, who has returned two of his six interceptions for scores this season. "Our goal is to get three turnovers in a game. It's going our way right now."
The Longhorns forced five turnovers (four interceptions and a fumble), held Oklahoma State to 140 yards under its average and limited the nation's No. 6 scoring offense to two touchdowns.
And they did it with swagger. That's the buzzword for the Longhorns' defense, whose members wear dog tags with "Swagger" imprinted on them.
Playing with swagger is easy when you're scoring touchdowns in every way. The two interception returns raised Texas' total of non-offensive touchdowns to a national-best nine. The Longhorns have scored three touchdowns via interceptions returns, two on punt returns, two on kickoff returns and two on blocked punts.
"I think that makes you an unusual team," Brown said. "We've never been able to do that, and our offense is getting better. Our defense is continuing to score and we didn't score [touchdowns] on special teams tonight, but we usually do. Scoring in all three phases is something that gives you a chance to be really, really good.
"We've just got to keep the hammer down and keep pressing in those areas."
Translation: They need to remain dominant.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.