So less than 13 hours after the biggest win in Charlie Strong’s tenure at Texas, what exactly was the reaction at Bellmont Hall?
Exactly what Longhorn Nation would hope it would be.
Focus on the future.
Texas’ over-the-top, 50-47 double-overtime upset of 10th-ranked Notre Dame did not create an overreaction on the Forty Acres, which in what has amounted to a football recession has been devalued as the Thirty Acres. But such emotions understandably would be allowed. After all, the frustrated fan base of the nation’s third-winningest program has been starved for just such a signature win during the Strong Era. Oh, he’s had a few others, but they were signed in pencil.
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The third-year head coach signed off on this one almost as quickly as it took him to insert the game tape of this week’s opponent, UTEP. Crowing would be natural for a coach who lost eight of his first nine games against ranked teams but has now won three in a row, but Strong’s sharp enough to know his staff can’t dwell on this big win.
“This can’t be a one-hit wonder,” Strong said Monday.
No, Texas can’t, not if it truly has turned the corner and reshaped this program into a reasonable facsimile of one that has produced 887 victories and four national championships but not posted double-digit wins since 2009. This was turn-a-program-around huge.
The guess here is Texas is in the process of building something special , and the Notre Dame upset laid the groundwork. While Strong has only a 4-8 record at Texas against Top 25 teams, he’s won his last three against Oklahoma, Baylor and Notre Dame, all ranked 12th nationally or higher.
Strong’s had big wins before, namely a first-season blowout of No. 25 West Virginia, but Texas lost two of the next three to close out 2014. He had the aforementioned, titanic upset of Oklahoma last year, but then lost inexplicably 24-0 to Iowa State two weeks later to negate any momentum.
But this team looks nothing like the one that stunned the Sooners. This version looks authentic with playmakers and athletes all over the field, a pair of thundering running backs, two terrific, dissimilar quarterbacks, a stud middle linebacker, a horde of top receivers and defensive backs, an offensive coordinator who’s off to a grand start and the best punter in the league. Now it’s time for Vance Bedford to shape up the defense.
Again, only one game, but given OU’s loss to Houston and TCU’s subpar opening win, there’s nothing to suggest Texas can’t be a contender for the Big 12 crown this year. If Texas doesn’t buy in to the hype. This team just doesn’t seem as psychologically fragile as the 2016 club.
Strong and his players all conceded Sunday night’s game was one they wouldn’t have won last season, but claim the locker room has been cleansed.
“We’ve had some selfish players in the past,” said junior defensive end Naashon Hughes, who played incredibly well and blocked a potential game-tying field goal with his 35-inch vertical leap. “We’ve gotten over that. We were missing something, but I don’t know what it was.”
If the Longhorns and Irish were to play 10 times, the bet is the two would probably split them evenly. But that’s a mouthful because Notre Dame was projected as a legitimate national championship contender, and Texas was considered a likely candidate for, uh, a bowl game. Any bowl game.
So where should Texas be ranked in Tuesday’s AP Poll? Top five? Top 10? Top 25? If you beat a No. 10 team, does that make you a No. 10 team? That argument can be made since all the 61 voters have to go on is one game. One very convincing game.
“I don’t even know,” Hughes said. “We probably won’t even be ranked. I actually prefer the underdog role with people doubting you and then proving them wrong.”
Few and fewer figure to doubt Texas if it keeps playing like this.
“I don’t feel that’s the best we can play,” tailback D’Onta Foreman said. “I feel we can go higher, but we can’t be complacent.”
But they can be real.