The Longhorns jumped Alabama and landed right behind top-ranked Florida on Sunday, a day after winning 41-14 at Oklahoma State in their best performance of the season.
Florida, No. 1 for all but one week this season, received 38 first-place votes after a 41-17 victory over Georgia.
The Longhorns started the season ranked second, but have been No. 3 behind the Gators and Crimson Tide the last three weeks. Texas received 13 first-place votes from the media panel. Many voters were swayed by the ease with which Longhorns handled Oklahoma State.
Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer jumped Texas from No. 3 to No. 1, past both Florida and Alabama.
"The Longhorns haven't had the same type of struggles that Florida and Alabama have experienced in some down-to-the-wire games, and a blowout win over their toughest opponent of the season finally added some heft to the Longhorns' schedule," he said. "But I still think Texas, Florida and Alabama are separated by very little at the top."
Alabama, which spent a week at No. 1, slipped to No. 3 during an off week. The Crimson Tide received eight first-place votes.
"Pretty easy decision for me: Texas is simply a more complete team than Alabama right now," said Craig James of ABC
Cincinnati and Boise State round out the top five. Unbeaten TCU is No. 6.
No. 7 Oregon moved up three spots after pounding Southern California 47-20 to take control of the Pac-10 race. USC fell eight spots to No. 12. It's the second time this season the Trojans have fallen out of the top 10 after a loss.
The Ducks are the highest ranked team with a loss, one spot ahead of unbeaten Iowa.
The eighth-ranked Hawkeyes slipped a spot after they needed a 28-point fourth quarter to beat Indiana 42-24.
No. 9 LSU travels to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama in Saturday's biggest game.
Georgia Tech moved up a spot to break into the top 10 for the first time this season.
No. 11 Penn State hosts Saturday's other marquee matchup. The Nittany Lions will face No. 15 Ohio State in a game with Big Ten title implications.
USC is followed by No. 13 Houston and No. 14 Pittsburgh.
No. 16 Miami, Utah, Oklahoma State - which dropped five spots after losing to Texas - Notre Dame and Oklahoma finish the first 20.
The last five include Arizona and Virginia Tech, which dropped eight spots to No. 22 after losing its third game of the season, and three teams that were not ranked last week.
No. 23 California is back in the rankings after consecutive lopsided losses to Oregon and USC dropped the Golden Bears out Oct. 4. No. 24 Wisconsin is ranked for the first time this season, and No. 25 BYU moved back into the rankings.
Falling out were South Carolina, Mississippi and West Virginia.
Richmond became the first FCS team to receive a vote this season.