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Golden: As it turns out, the Big 12 isn't a two-horse race after all and Texas is a player

Horns rolled over Rice, 58-0, to close non-conference play

  • Texas dominated Rice and enters league play with renewed confidence.
  • The Big 12 went 8-0 in non-conference games Saturday.
  • Preseason pollsters had Oklahoma and Iowa State 1-2 in Big 12 rankings.

Remember that Big 12 preseason poll in July that projected a two-horse race between Oklahoma and Iowa State?

Well, about that …

Preseason polls are great for the preseason, but perceptions change when the real bullets start flying.

More:Texas 58, Rice 0: After tasting ‘humble pie,’ Horns simply dominate overmatched Owls

More:Bohls: Thompson, Worthy a Texas passing tandem worthy of high praise and expectations

Three weeks have shown us that the Big 12 is there for the taking. The Sooners and Cyclones can be had.

Question is, who wants to meet that challenge?

And why not the Texas Longhorns?

Texas players take the field at Royal-Memorial Stadium before Saturday's 58-0 win over Rice. The win improved the Longhorns to 2-1 ahead of their Big 12 opener next week against Texas Tech.

After getting filleted in Fayetteville, the Horns closed out the nonconference season on a predictable high note with Rice serving as the perfect foil to soothe the concerns of nervous fans. The 58-0 defeathering of the Rice Owls was as dominant as the score indicated, but it didn’t really tell us anything about what to expect when the Horns (2-1) open up conference play here against Texas Tech.

More:How the Texas Longhorns graded out in their 58-0 win over Rice

We knew the defense would emerge from the home tunnel with smoke coming out of their ear holes. That embattled offensive line was better, of course, but they were not facing an SEC defense this time around.

The running backs put on a track meet with 427 yards rushing and six touchdowns and most important, we received good confirmation that Casey Thompson is the quarterback of the present and the near future as he led the Horns to touchdowns on seven of eight possessions before giving way to Hudson Card midway through the third quarter.

Texas running back Roschon Johnson scores on a 72-yard touchdown run in Saturday's win over Rice. Johnson said he hopes Big 12 opponents are sleeping on the Horns after their struggles at Arkansas. Texas opens league play at home against Texas Tech next Saturday.

Thompson, an admitted football junkie, watched his father Charles’  alma mater Oklahoma take a closer-than-expected 23-16 win over Nebraska from the team hotel Saturday morning, which added to the growing national perception that the Sooners might not be as CFP-ready as some prognosticators projected.

Better yet, their longtime playground is no guarantee. Oklahoma’s streak of six straight conference titles could end. No, really. It could.

Yes, the No. 3 Sooners shredded Western Carolina 76-0 last week, but spanking up on a Catamount isn’t the same as winning by single digits over Tulane and Nebraska. They are still the favorites, but not in overwhelming fashion as originally believed. Quarterback Spencer Rattler has been good but not Heisman-hyped great in the two FBS games.

“I started studying them in the offseason right after the bowl game,” Thompson said. “We’ll be looking out for them, but we have to focus on one week at a time. Obviously this past week we had to focus on Rice and now we have to focus on Texas Tech.”

Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler throws during Saturday's 23-16 win over Nebraska  in Norman, Okla. The Sooners improved to 3-0 entering Big 12 play, but haven't been as dominant as preseason prognosticators projected.

Let’s keep it real. Fans in Ames and Norman should make sure those hotel reservations in Arlington for the first Saturday in December are fully refundable because neither school has struck any fear into the hearts of teams like Texas, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, TCU, Texas Tech or Kansas State.

Officially, Baylor and Kansas opened league play in Lawrence on Saturday, but those are teams we won’t be discussing when it comes to handing out any trophies on Championship Saturday. The league went 8-0 over the weekend, with Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State entering the money round at 3-0.

The Sooners and Cyclones are still the favorites, but what have we seen from them to make us think they're slam dunks? Tulane came within one yard of a first down and the chance to upset the Sooners in Norman in Week 1, while the Cyclones opened up with 16-10 loss to a Northern Iowa team that’s nearly 30 years removed from Kurt Warner. They did respond Saturday with a 48-3 humbling of UNLV.

More:Texas fried Rice: Takeaways from the Texas Longhorns' 58-0 shutout victory

Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said his team responded from the loss at Arkansas with the correct mindset. The Horns dominated the Owls and enter the Big 12 opener against Texas Tech with some renewed confidence.

And then you have the 2-1 Horns. We didn’t really know what we would get under new coach Steve Sarkisian, and now the Horns are on a second quarterback after a real blistering in their first big road test. It’s been a mixed bag.

Saturday night’s demolition went off as expected with Thompson capably directing the offense and doing a nice job of spreading the ball around. The Horns could have Catamounted the Owls had Sark left the starters in, but no conference titles are won in Week 3.

If anything, they came out with the right spirit after that Arkansas loss and are in a good mental space with a winnable game coming up against the Red Raiders.

"I hate to harbor on the loss because we’ve had two good wins, but I think we learned a lot about our team and the direction we can go moving forward from that loss,” Sarkisian said. “But we’ve got a team that has a lot of grit and a great deal of perseverance.”

And what of the Big 12? Have you been keeping up with the league, Sark?

“I think the conference is playing well right now,” he said.  “For the most part, the conference is winning the non-conference games. It sure looks like a physical conference. Everybody plays a physical brand of football. I don’t think this is the Big 12 of old when you watch from afar. Teams believe in running the ball and stopping the run.”

Unless my eyes deceive, the Horns should open up by holding serve at the house before a Metroplex gauntlet against TCU and Oklahoma.

“I think everything that we want is still ahead of us and we’re hungrier now more than ever,” Thompson said.

After that long, depressing flight home from the pig pen, running back Roschon Johnson said he didn't want to feel that way again and hopes the rest of the league is sleeping on Texas.

“I don’t necessarily know if they are or not, but I hope they are because I like when people underestimate us,” he said.

It’s wide open in 2021 and the Horns are a player.