A fast start is exciting. A strong finish is vital.
No team should know that more than Oklahoma State, especially this week.
When the Cowboys travel to face Texas on Saturday, they go with a high-powered offense, an improving defense – and a history of collapsing in the second half against the Longhorns.
In the past five years, Texas has outscored Oklahoma State 158-14 in the second half.
Four times in those five years, the Cowboys have held a halftime lead over the Longhorns; in three games, they held a double-digit advantage. Consider:
• In 2003, Oklahoma State led 16-14 at halftime, but Texas roared back for a 55-16 victory.
• In 2004, the Cowboys held a 35-14 lead at halftime. The Longhorns won 56-35.
• In 2005, Oklahoma State led 28-12 at the half. Vince Young ran 80 yards for a touchdown in Texas' first series of the second half, and the Longhorns romped to a 47-28 win.
• Last season, the Cowboys led 28-14 at halftime and extended the lead to 35-14 in the third quarter. But Texas rallied for 24 fourth-quarter points and a 38-35 victory.
Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson set a school single-game record with 486 yards of total offense against Texas last season. He scored on a 7-yard run and threw two touchdown passes. But he stood by in near disbelief as Texas rolled up 311 yards of offense in the fourth quarter alone and prevailed with a field goal on the game's final play.
"It was tough to watch – just not finishing the game as a team," Robinson said. "There were things we could have done as an offense and not put our defense in that situation."
Robinson was being generous about his defense. Yes, Oklahoma State missed a field goal, but the defense allowed two touchdown drives that covered more than 90 yards.
Once again, the top-ranked Longhorns are capable of scoring points in bunches. Quarterback Colt McCoy has passed for 1,894 yards and 19 touchdowns to lead the country's No. 2 scoring offense.
Oklahoma State has had some troubling moments defensively, but the Cowboys also have forced 12 turnovers in the last four games. That includes getting three interceptions off Missouri's Chase Daniel in a 28-23 upset two weeks ago. Robinson said he feels this Cowboys defense is better equipped to handle the Longhorns than last season's.
"It has alleviated a lot of pressure on us," Robinson said. "It gives us an extra boost, after they force a turnover, that we can go punch it in on the next few plays."
Maybe, but Oklahoma State has allowed at least 23 points in four games against offenses that aren't as efficient as Texas' unit.
In truth, Oklahoma State's best chance to beat Texas rests with its offense. The Cowboys have the guns to handle a shootout with the Longhorns. Robinson has thrown for 1,488 yards. Running back Kendall Hunter leads the Big 12 in rushing with 955 yards. Wide receiver Dez Bryant has gotten into the periphery of the Heisman discussion with 809 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Star tight end Brandon Pettigrew is coming back from injury.
The Cowboys are No. 4 in scoring offense, and Robinson said they're better and more confident than a year ago.
"There is a totally different attitude," he said. "The defense is obviously playing really well right now. Offensively, we feel like we can score every time we touch it."
They even feel like if they get a lead against Texas, they can hold it in the second half. They did so against Missouri.
"What we've stressed this season is finishing games," Robinson said. "We finally got that done on the road at Missouri. It gave us a lot of confidence."
• Back in August, Thursday night's Auburn-West Virginia matchup looked like a sexy interconference game. Now, the loser's bowl aspirations are in jeopardy. Really. Thursday night upsets have been almost a weekly occurrence. Not this time. Neither team is good enough to be upset.
• Texas Tech could be ripe for an upset at Kansas this week. In the past five seasons, the Red Raiders are 0-9 on the road against ranked teams. The problems haven't been limited to ranked teams, either. Two years ago, Tech lost 30-6 at Colorado, which managed just two victories.
• Ohio State is playing its best football just in time to face Penn State in what will be its most important game of the season. How ironic it would be if Pennsylvania native Terrelle Pryor leads the Buckeyes to a victory and knocks Penn State out of the national championship picture.
• The loss of nose tackle Terrence Cody, who is expected to miss at least two games because of a sprained MCL, hurts Alabama. Cody is a big reason Alabama ranks fourth in the nation in rushing defense, so the Tide figure to be more vulnerable against the run. But this week's opponent, Tennessee, has had trouble running. Next week's opponent, Arkansas State, shouldn't be a problem, either.
• Remember when former Michigan running back Mike Hart referred to Michigan State as the Wolverines' little brother last season? Little brother is looking for payback, and likely will get it Saturday.
• Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt on Saturday returns to Arkansas, where he coached for 10 seasons. No doubt, he'll be the target of all sorts of colorful jeers from Arkansas fans who campaigned for his ouster a year ago. A win may be vital in order for the Rebels to attain bowl eligibility.
• It's been a difficult year for Arkansas. But its fans should take solace in the Razorbacks showing obvious improvement in the past two weeks (a 25-22 win over Auburn and a 21-20 loss at Kentucky). Write off this season, but the progress should be encouraging for the Hogs' future under coach Bobby Petrino.
• When coaching positions start coming open, look for Boston College's Jeff Jagodzinski to be a hot commodity. In his first year on the job at BC, Jagodzinski led the Eagles to an 11-3 finish. Then quarterback Matt Ryan departed for the NFL. So what happens? The Eagles are 5-1 and contending for the ACC championship again. Nice coaching job.
• If Oklahoma doesn't lose again and Texas doesn't lose again, could we see a Sooners-Longhorns rematch for the national championship?
• No doubt, the BCS standings caused great angst in Salt Lake City. How can Utah be six spots behind USC? Utah is unbeaten and has a victory over Oregon State, which beat USC. Tell me again how the system works.
• Texas A&M, which faces Iowa State, is trying to avoid its first four-game losing streak since 1980. But even if they lose, the Aggies know that '80 team came back to beat Texas.
• Think Boise State, and visions of wide-open offense and trick plays usually come to mind. But has anybody noticed the Broncos have allowed seven or fewer points in five of their six games?
• How Missouri bounces back against Colorado this week could be telling. Two weeks ago, the Tigers were in the national championship picture. But consecutive losses to Oklahoma State and Texas squashed that. Will the Tigers come back strong with the Big 12 championship still within reach? We'll see.
• Sometimes consistency isn't a good thing. Take Colorado, for example. The Buffaloes have scored 14 points in each of their past three games.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.