AUSTIN, Texas — This is what it's come down to for once-mighty Texas: Win two of the last three games or have the first losing season in the Mack Brown era.
The odds aren't good for a team that seems to be getting worse every week.
The quarterback keeps throwing the ball to the wrong team, the defense can't stop anyone and Royal-Memorial Stadium has been turned into a stomping ground for opposing teams to dish out whippings like a school yard bully.
At 4-5, the Longhorns are in complete collapse just one season after playing for the national title.
With three games left against No. 12 Oklahoma State (8-1), Florida Atlantic (3-5) and No. 23 Texas A&M (6-3), Texas isn't even a lock to get the six wins necessary for a bowl bid.
"It's been fun for 12 years. We've had a lot of great moments. We've lost those right now," said Brown, who earns $5 million a year and hasn't had a losing season since 1989 at North Carolina. "You've got to fight your guts out to get them back."
The stunning part of the collapse is that no one thought it could happen here.
There was too much coaching experience on the sideline. Too many blue-chippers in the recruiting pipeline to have to suffer through a dreaded "rebuilding year."
Other top programs — Oklahoma and USC, for example — might have the occasional one-season dip, but Texas looked like a machine geared for one of the great runs in history. The Longhorns won at least 10 games for nine consecutive seasons, second only to Florida State's NCAA-record 14 in a row from 1987-2000.
Rebuilding years may be acceptable at other schools, but not at Texas, Brown said.
"I thought we were beyond that. I thought we had enough depth here, I thought we had the confidence," Brown said.
So what went wrong?
Texas was easily the most overrated team of the preseason. The Longhorns debuted at No. 5 after last season's 13-1 finish despite losing two-time Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Colt McCoy, record-setting receiver Jordan Shipley and four NFL draft picks from the defense.
On offense, Texas returned nine players who started at least four games in 2009. McCoy's replacement, Garrett Gilbert, was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country.
The defense, even with the loss of so much talent, was so supposed to be so good that Brown suggested it could be his best ever.
But the first depth chart showed 13 redshirt or true freshmen in the two-deep lineup. Some called it proof of the talent in Brown's last two recruiting classes. It looks now more like a fire alarm nobody wanted to hear.
Brown saw early warning signs. The Longhorns lacked passion in training camp and there was a lackluster season-opening win at Rice.
A 3-0 start quickly unraveled in a 34-12 loss to UCLA, the worst home defeat in Brown's 13 seasons at Texas.
Texas lost the next week at Oklahoma, then rebounded on the road to beat Nebraska on Oct. 16. That win which looks like a fluke a month later, after Iowa State beat Texas for the first time ever and Baylor beat the Longhorns for the first time since 1997.
Then came a 39-14 loss at Kansas State, a game the Wildcats led 39-0 despite attempting only four passes the entire game. The Wildcats ripped defensive coordinator — and head coach-in-waiting — Will Muschamp's defense for 261 yards rushing.
The offense has been even worse.
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