"I do not think we're a great team at this point," Mack Brown said. "We're at a point, unless we play well, we'll get beat."
Even Brown seems a bit surprised that his team has ended up in this spot after two impressive wins over Oklahoma and Missouri. Texas (7-0, 3-0 Big 12) started the season ranked No. 11 and Brown used that "flying under the radar" approach through the first couple of games until they bumped off Oklahoma and Missouri in impressive fashion.
Now the Longhorns are everyone's target.
Brown talks to his team on Sundays about their poll rankings, their place in the Bowl Championship Series standings and the schedule that lies ahead. It's something he's done every year.
He warns them against "eating the poison cheese" of believing all the good things being said about them. This week, he drew boxes of cheese on an overhead projector in the team meeting.
"It's cheesy," quarterback Colt McCoy said. "But it's so true. You can't get caught looking ahead."
Even after pounding Missouri 56-31 in a game they led 35-0 in the second quarter, several Texas players said they don't consider themselves a great team -- yet.
"I believe we're good. I don't believe we're great," defensive tackle Lamarr Houston said. "I don't think you determine who is great until the end of the year."
Brown said his weekly messages to this team are different than the 2005 squad that won the national championship. That team started the year ranked No. 2 and expected all along to be in the national title game.
"Everyone knew that team was a really good," Brown said.
This season, Texas moved into the top spot by winning the first seven games and having three other Nos. 1 lose -- including Oklahoma, which Texas beat to move into the top spot. If Southern Cal or Georgia -- two other team in the top spot this season -- hadn't lost early games, who knows where Texas would be ranked right now?
Brown spent part of Monday picking on the things he believes Texas must do better: play better pass defense and create more turnovers.
The Longhorns are ranked No. 111 against the pass, giving up an average of 275 yards per game. They have just five interceptions. Freshmen safeties Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas have made big plays, but have given up their share as well.
"They've had some tough moments," Brown said. "We're still giving up too much back there. They're getting tested."
One thing Brown really likes about this year's squad is that the seniors and some of the juniors who were on the team in 2005 got to watch how that group handled their road to the championship.
"I always I thought we had some great athletes on this team," senior defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "We are mature in the fact that we know that you don't get a certificate for being number one at the seventh game of year. You get it at the end of the year."