This will be Charlie Strong’s year.
That’s not a misprint.
Don’t let his former protege Teddy Bridgewater’s shredded knee deter you, Longhorn Nation, from jumping on this bandwagon before it picks up too much steam. The Texas Longhorns have undergone enough growing pains already. It’s time to turn that pain into winning gain.
They’re hungry and they’re desperate and it’s the most healthy kind of desperation, friends: one borne of missed extra points, dropped punts, and one dubious personal foul called on the head coach, of all people.
The Horns have been through the football ringer and the cyclical nature of college football suggests that it’s time for this program to emerge from the wilderness and make its way back toward the upper tier of the Big 12 and possibly to places beyond if this coaching staff can continue to mold its young talent and bring in great recruiting classes.
And if team chemistry counts for anything — I know, we’ve heard the togetherness angle played before — the Horns will take the field against No. 10 Notre Dame Sunday night as one united group.
“I really like this football team,” Strong said. “I told them out there the other day, I just like just their overall attitude, and usually when you talk about their training room in there, usually when guys have a bad attitude, you see a lot of guys in the training room and guys aren’t trying to get back on the field. When you have a team with a good attitude they’re all working to get back on the football field, and that’s what you’re seeing now because at every position it’s been so competitive.”
Notre Dame isn’t the whole season but it’s oh-so important to make a statement in this opener. Beyond that, the Horns will show up against talented Oklahoma — they always do — and will be much better against TCU than that 50-7 Cowtown Beatdown we witnessed. And get ready Iowa State, revenge will be served igloo cold when the Cyclones visit Austin on October 15. Trips to Stillwater and Lubbock will be the most challenging as better Texas teams than this one have fallen short in those venues.
I’m not saying this preseason love-in will lead to an 11-2 season and a win in the Sugar Bowl like Strong’s Louisville team did in his third season but a nice jump from 5-7 to 8-4 and a bowl game should happen this season because there are some important pieces in place, particularly on the offensive line that’s hopefully getting healthier as we speak and at running back where D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren should combine to run for somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,700 yards this season.
The quarterback situation, you ask? That’s a tough one.
It’s the one area where Strong cannot err, lest the first half of this column be rendered moot. Chuck is still playing coy with the decision as is new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert and the team leaders we interviewed this week but the guess here is Shane Buechele will get the nod of senior Tyrone Swoopes.
It has to be Buechele because Strong’s entire offseason platform has been built on the principles of togetherness, leadership, and hope. The freshman embodies those principles and more even if it’s easy to deduce that those pregame butterflies floating around his gut in the locker room will quickly turn into bats once he takes the field in front the first home crowd of 100,000-plus in the Charlie Strong era.
He will handle this stage just fine.
Over on the other side of the ball, sophomore middle linebacker Malik Jefferson, told me last week that he saw “hope and passion” in Strong’s eyes during training camp. He says Strong is relaxed and confident that this team will give him the winning season he sorely needs after that sub-par 11-14 start to this Texas tenure.
“Guys are really coming together and understanding we’re coming for one common goal,” Jefferson said. “There’s no selfishness or anything like that. This whole summer we’ve been working really hard and we a put in the time to actually get to know each other. Everybody has been mentoring these young guys so well and it’s been a very comfortable thing.”
The upset is there for the taking. Texas just has to bring its best performance since the OU win. If the Horns can pull off the unexpected against the Irish, it will set the tone for Strong to make his third season his most enjoyable.
It happens in 2016. This is Chuck’s year.