NEW ORLEANS — It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and Dickens didn’t even know Texas was joyously dispatched to the Sugar Bowl but unfortunately strapped with the challenge of having to face a ticked-off team that was an eyelash away from a precious playoff berth.
This showdown with Georgia promises to be a tale of two programs perhaps headed in the same direction. Perhaps.
That is, if the Bulldogs play like the College Football Playoff contender they were all season long and if the Longhorns regain some of the swagger they lost in the Big 12 championship game and produce their first 10-win season since 2009.
Just playing in a New Year’s Day Six bowl signifies staggering progress for a franchise dead in the water since Mack Brown last carried a whistle around his neck in Austin. Texas had gone 23-27 for four seasons, three of them under Charlie Strong and the initial year for Tom Herman, but this was a breakout year.
The question is will it last.
The Longhorns have the requisite dynamic quarterback for 2019 and the makings of a dynamite secondary, but they could be thin up front on both sides of the ball and at linebacker and wide receiver if their two stars leave school early.
Consequently, this is an important game for Herman, a test of his club’s manhood. The Longhorns don’t have to win. That might be asking too much since Georgia is a legit top 10 team and figures to remain such, so long as Kirby Smart is at the helm.
A victory, of course, would represent a huge statement for Texas as it attempts to build confidence and cement the national perception that it is returning to its glory days. It did beat Oklahoma once, after all. And it won six straight after the Maryland defeat before two narrow losses by four total points.
Ending the season with consecutive losses is never recommended for a program starved to remain on an uphill climb, but it is imperative Texas play well.
Unlike last season when nearly every big star like Malik Jefferson and Connor Williams sat out the Texas Bowl with an injury or insecurity about health, the Longhorns are fairly healthy and intact for this one. Georgia, on the other hand, will be without the services of cornerback Deandre Baker, who’s projected as a high NFL draft pick.
So for 2018 — plus one day in January— to stand as the season of light and the spring of hope as Dickens once wrote, Texas needs to show up Tuesday and give a good account of itself.
Recruits, AP voters and a national-television audience will all be watching. So will Longhorn Nation.
It’s time to impress, Texas, and prove that continuing to move forward can make this the best of times. With better times to come.