​Griffith’s Got Stats

Is Texas back?

by Evan Griffith | 10/8/18 2:05am

The announcers almost jinxed it, but I think everyone can finally say what fans in Austin, Texas have been hoping to say for a long time:

Texas is back.

I’m referring to the University of Texas at Austin’s football team, of course. This past Saturday, the 19th-ranked Longhorns took down the 7th-ranked University of Oklahoma Sooners in the annual Red River Shootout at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, 48-45, in the most exciting game of the week. This is arguably second-year head coach Tom Herman’s biggest win in Austin since taking over the program last year after a successful tenure as the head coach of the University of Houston football team. With this win, the Longhorns are now 5-1 and undefeated in the Big 12 Conference, with the team’s only loss being its first game against the University of Maryland. Texas will look to take Oklahoma’s place as the Big 12 representative in the College Football Playoff this season, although the team will need a lot of help, especially with undefeated powerhouses like the University of Alabama, the University of Georgia and Ohio State University all looking strong. 

It’s important to understand how much this win means to Longhorn fans. Soon after Texas became an inaugural member of the Big 12 Conference in 1996, head coach Mack Brown was hired in 1998 to replace the reassigned John Mackovic after the team went 4-7 the previous year, tied for the team’s second-worst record in 50 years. He was a phenomenal coach, but Brown had strengths as a recruiter as well, opening up talks with local Texas high schools. Texas recruits during this time often enrolled in schools outside of Texas in part due to the “death penalty” enforced upon the Southern Methodist University football team for repeated NCAA rule violations. Brown convinced these players to play at Austin, and in Brown’s first season, the team went undefeated at home and defeated the Mississippi State University Bulldogs in the 1999 Cotton Bowl Classic, the Longhorns’ first New Years Bowl victory since 1981. Brown would put together a 59-18 record through 2003, but was criticized for failing to ever win the Big 12 or lead the team to Bowl Championship Series games. That changed in 2005, when the Longhorns and Texas-born quarterback Vince Young went on to win the 2005 Rose Bowl against the University of Michigan Wolverines 38-37. The Longhorns would go the Rose Bowl again the next year for the BCS National Championship Game against the University of Southern California and come away with a 41-38 victory and a perfect season in one of the greatest games in college football history. Texas was the undisputed national champion that year.

Vince Young would declare for the NFL Draft and be picked third overall after the National Championship, leaving freshman quarterback Colt McCoy as the starter. Although the Longhorns would not win another National Championship during McCoy’s college career (coming closest against Alabama in the 2010 BCS Championship Game), McCoy was the most successful quarterback under Brown, holding a 45-8 record as a starter. After McCoy graduated, coaching turnover and player injuries brought the Longhorns down from college football’s elite programs. Mack Brown retired at the end of the 2013 season, finishing with a 158-48 record, two Big 12 conference championships, one national championship and a 3-1 record in BCS Bowl games.

Charlie Strong replaced Mack Brown as head coach in 2014. The Longhorns would struggle to reach winning records during his tenure; the inconsistencies with Strong as head coach began the “Is Texas back?” running joke. In 2015, unranked Texas would upset 10th-ranked Oklahoma, but would then go on to lose to unranked Iowa State University and Texas Tech University, finishing the season with a 5-7 record. In 2016, Texas would upset the 10th-ranked University of Notre Dame and 8th-ranked Baylor University, but would go on to lose to unranked Kansas University and Texas Christian University to finish 5-7. Strong was fired after this season and replaced with Herman. 

This season, the Longhorns seem to have finally found their stride. After the opening loss to Maryland, Texas has beaten three ranked teams, including the recent win over Oklahoma. These wins included victories over then-No. 17 TCU and then-No. 22 USC in a rematch of the 2006 Rose Bowl. The fans are starting to show their support as well, as the Texas-USC game attracted an audience of 103,507 people, the largest recorded attendance at a Texas football home game to date. Despite the record, and the big win over Oklahoma, it still might be prudent to temper expectations for this football team. Oklahoma, while ranked 7th in the country, had an atrocious defense. The current defensive coordinator for Oklahoma is Mike Stoops, the brother of former head coach Bob Stoops, which may be part of the reason he hasn’t been fired yet. Texas was also winning 45-24 before Oklahoma scored three touchdowns in five and a half minutes to tie the game, forcing Texas to rely on a last-second field goal from freshman kicker Cam Dicker for the win. Herman even responded to a reporter who asked, “Is Texas back?” by saying, “I’ve got to tread lightly on this one. … It’s irrelevant to us, is the best way to put it. We’re not so concerned with where people think Texas is. … The people in that locker room are the people whose opinions matter the most to us.”

In order for Texas to have a shot at winning the Big 12 this year, the team’s next big tests will come one right after another, as the team travels to Oklahoma State on Oct. 27th, then hosts 6th-ranked West Virginia the following Saturday.