Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff


Bohls: Is Texas better than last year? Getting to eight wins is the minimum mark to show progress

Posted November 5th, 2018

Story highlights
  • To show progress, Tom Herman needs to better last year's 7-6 record and get at least eight wins.
  • The Longhorns have dangerous opponents ahead in Texas Tech and Iowa State but can't squander a 6-1 start.
  • "The big picture is irrelevant," Herman said.

Eight is enough.

At least it was for a TV comedy in the late ’70s.

And now eight is essential.


That number of victories would be enough to show progress for a Texas football team that’s struggling to return to national prominence.

That should be the minimal amount necessary. Anything fewer than eight suggests stagnation, especially for a team that sat 6-1 with a six-game win streak.

If the Longhorns (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) were to drop games to both Texas Tech this week and Iowa State the next before beating Kansas in the regular-season finale, no one in the 512 would be happy with a 7-5 record. That would mean a disastrous 1-4 slide that would stamp Texas as a mere pretender and kill offseason momentum.

An eighth win in a bowl game could ease some of that pain, but not even close to all of it. Not when Texas was poised to make a Big 12 championship run. That No. 6 national ranking, while always fragile, would seem fraudulent if the dip continues.

I still think Texas is pretty decent. However, the bottom line is this: A team can’t go 7-6 with a minor bowl victory in Year One and then claim improvement if it doesn’t exceed that win total in Year Two.  Anything less than eight wins suggests going backward. Tom Herman needs something tangible.

On the surface, Texas is a better football team this year.

Better than whom, you might ask. Fair question.

Well, Oklahoma, USC and TCU, to name three.

But not better than West Virginia and Oklahoma State, to name two. And never better than, uh, Big Ten power Maryland.

Texas tight end Andrew Beck (47) argues a call with a referee during an NCAA college football game against West Virginia in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
But mostly the sense has been that Texas is better than last year, even if the record doesn’t say so yet. The optics say they’re better with a drastically improved quarterback and receivers although the bottom line has looked pretty bleak lately with two consecutive losses in which a sieve for a Longhorns defense has surrendered 80 points.

The defense — yes, battered and bruised, that it is — has allowed 13 scores in 22 offensive possessions over the last two games. In those others, the Cowboys and Mountaineers missed two field goals and failed to convert on a fourth-and-1 in field-goal range, so it could have been 16 scores in 22 series. That’s downright ugly.

The truth is the Longhorns are pretty good but only marginally better.

Just like 2017, they’re still losing close games, only to passing quarterbacks who can run just enough. Oklahoma State’s Taylor Cornelius ran for the clinching first down. West Virginia’s Will Grier ran for the winning two points.

Over the course of the last two seasons, Texas is 13-9. Of those nine defeats, seven have been by single digits. This year alone, the Longhorns have dropped games by five, three and one point. A play here, a play there.

Not quite good enough.

They look better. But to escape the malaise that has swallowed up Texas since 2010, they need to play better. Much, much better, especially on defense.

Tom Herman feels that way as well.

Asked what would constitute a successful season coming off a 7-6 record, Herman said Monday, “To go 1-0 against Texas Tech.”

UT coach Tom Herman warms up his team before the Baylor game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday October 13, 2018. [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

That’s a bit myopic.

Pressed further, he was asked if he needs to improve on seven wins to show progress to recruits, College Football Playoff committee voters, heck even themselves. Herman rebutted that theory.

“Oh, I think we’ve shown all the progress. Not all the progress,” he said. “We still can show more progress. But I don’t think there’s anybody that’s watched us for the last two years or watched this program for the last five or six that would argue that we’ve (not) made substantial progress up until this point.”

He’s right, of course. But record-wise, what would that look like?

“I’m not going to get into what would be successful and not successful. The big picture is irrelevant,” he said. “We’ve got to worry about making progress this week in terms of our level the play to be able to go on the road and win a big-time ballgame.”

I’d argue otherwise. The big picture is always relevant.

That’s the pitch that coaches make to recruits. Jump on the bandwagon while there’s still room. He needs more playmakers.

A win over the average but dangerous Red Raiders would mark a huge step toward that progress. It’s clearly taking a toll on Herman, who seemed a bit broken over the latest turn of events.

So how does he feel?

“Proud and frustrated at the same time,” he said. “I’m so proud of the way that we fought two weeks ago in Stillwater. I’m extremely proud of the level of intensity and physicality that we continue to play with. That is something that will never waver in this program. I’m certainly frustrated that we couldn’t close the deal this past weekend, got off to such a poor start the weekend prior.

“We know what we’re capable of, though, too. I think optimistic.”

A couple more wins, and he’d be a lot more optimistic.