Vince Young isn’t suiting up, Mack Brown isn’t on the sideline and Texas isn’t playing with a national championship on the line on Saturday against No. 4 USC. But it’s still Texas and USC — two of the most tradition-riched programs in college football — and it’s still going to be on display for the entire nation to see.
“This is a big game,” former quarterback Vince Young said on Tuesday. “Not just for (the players) — it’s for the state of Texas. It’s everything. Yes, it’s a game, but at the same time you need to win this game, or you need to at least show up at this game. Don’t go out there and embarrass yourself. Go out there and be Texas football.”
The magnitude of the game isn’t in question. The quality is. There’s no hiding it — No. 4 USC is the heavy favorite, and a 15.5-point favorite at that.
“We are an underdog,” head coach Tom Herman said. “They’ve been doing this awhile at Southern Cal. We haven’t. (They had a) great season last year, quarterback is as good as there is in the country, skill positions all over the place that are as good as there is in the country … I would say they’re definitely the favorite.”
The Trojans, who are considered a College Football Playoff contender, are riding an 11-game win streak dating back to Oct. 1, 2016. The Longhorns have been on a much different path in recent years.
Texas has struggled on the road, going 2–8 in the previous two seasons, which seems to have formed a perfect storm after USC announced that the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will be sold out with 92,348 rocking fans ready to see the rematch.
Herman knows one of the biggest challenges off the field won’t just come from the roaring crowd — it’ll come from the pregame routine.
“I think the challenge is sticking to your routine,” Herman said. “If you can make just getting on a plane the only deviation in that routine, then you’ve succeeded. That’s probably the biggest challenge, is making sure that we’re dialed in and focused just as if it were a home game.”
Herman said he will run the same pregame schedule to provide his team with consistency, but the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum isn’t Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Rather than playing with the leisure of a burnt orange crowd, the Longhorns will play in front of a sea of cardinal and gold.
With the starting quarterback position still unclear for Saturday’s game and a defense that gave up 51 points to Maryland two weeks ago, several questions remain about Texas’ ability to respond to an explosive Trojan squad.
“We’ll find out Saturday,” Herman said. “We’re not gonna leave any stone unturned, we’re not gonna leave any ‘I’ not dotted or any ‘T’ not crossed. We’ll be in as good a place mentally as we can be. I have confidence that they’ll respond.”
Saturday’s showdown will mark these two high-profiled programs’ first matchup since Young’s heroics in 2006 at the Rose Bowl delivered Texas its fourth national title. But USC isn’t claiming that loss.
The Trojans’ program was heavily penalized in June 2010 by the NCAA for improper benefits given to former running back Reggie Bush. The penalties included a loss of 30 scholarships over three years, a two-year bowl ban and a vacating of games from Dec. 2004 through the entirety of the 2005 season — including the loss to Texas in the national title game. But the Longhorns are convinced that people won’t forget what really happened.
“They say they never lost,” former defensive end Tim Crowder said on Tuesday, “but I bet you a million people know they did.”