AUSTIN, Texas -- Heisman Trophies aren't won in early-season games against inferior opponents. To earn the title of the best college football player in the country, you have to show up when the lights are the brightest and the games are the biggest.
The stage doesn't get much larger than the Cotton Bowl in Dallas for Saturday's Red River Rivalry.
"I understand these are big games, and my job is to go out there and do my best to help our team win," Texas quarterback Colt McCoy said. "And I also understand through experience, through four years, that if I go out there and play well and we win, those things come in the end."
That's what happened for McCoy's counterpart on Saturday -- Oklahoma's Sam Bradford. He put up gaudy numbers against Texas last season: 387 passing yards and five touchdowns. And though he threw two interceptions in a losing effort, Bradford grabbed the attention of Heisman voters and just kept piling up the yardage and touchdowns for the rest of the season.
Bradford could become only the latest example of a player using the Red River Rivalry as a springboard to winning the Heisman Trophy.
OU quarterback Jason White threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns in a 65-13 whipping of the Longhorns in 2003. In 1998, Texas' Ricky Williams wore No. 37 to honor SMU's Doak Walker and rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-3 win over Oklahoma.
McCoy made it clear his priority is winning the game. He did that last season, putting together an accurate and impressive afternoon. He completed 28 of 35 passes for 277 yards and led UT on four consecutive second-half scoring drives.
But McCoy ended up second in the Heisman voting. If that near-miss still bothers McCoy, he isn't showing it. He said he hasn't even thought about last year's Oklahoma game or how the season finished.
"I'm only worried about this game," McCoy said.
After a slow start to the season, by his lofty standards, McCoy has played at a higher level since halftime of the Texas Tech game -- completing 82.6 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
McCoy had the flu the week of the Tech game. But after eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and getting some fluids in his system at halftime, McCoy was 15-of-18 passing with a touchdown in the second half to lead Texas to a 34-24 win.
McCoy is showing an even greater understanding of the offense. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said McCoy is progressing through his reads quicker, finding his third and fourth options more often through the first five games than he did all of last season.
"I've seen him relaxing more," Davis said. "He had set his bar so high, it was almost impossible to attain. He's playing more like himself, dropping the ball down. He's playing well."
Playing well in front of a sellout crowd, not to mention a national television audience, could vault him into frontrunner status for the Heisman Trophy.
"I think all the individual awards are a tribute to how well your team plays," McCoy said. "Those awards definitely reflect your team. If that happens in the end, I'll be extremely thankful and that will be awesome. It's a team award to me."
Make no mistake, McCoy wants trophies. But there are two others he'd like more.
"The national championship means the most and the Big 12 championship means the most," McCoy said. "Those are two things we haven't played for the last few years."
Richard Durrett covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.