To open a pivotal third season, Charlie Strong’s Texas Longhorns face three opponents who won 10 or more games a year ago, including one CFP semifinalist. And that’s just in the first five games.
In a near perfect world, Texas would take two out of three games against Notre Dame, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. In reality, the Longhorns would probably settle for a single win and move into a more workable patch of the schedule.
Indeed, the narrative of this season, good or bad, could be determined by the halfway point.
We’re breaking down all 12 opponents, divided into four separate phases of the schedule:
The Early Tests — three team-defining games to open Big 12 play. Texas at Oklahoma State (Oct. 1), vs. Oklahoma in Dallas (Oct. 8) and vs. Iowa State (Oct. 15).
The Tossups — three winnable (and losable) games. Texas at Kansas State (Oct. 22), vs. Baylor (Oct. 29) and at Texas Tech (Nov. 5).
The Home Stretch — the final three games of the season. Texas vs. West Virginia (Nov. 12), at Kansas (Nov. 19) and vs. TCU the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 25).
FOR STARTERS: The three non-conference matchups
Game 3: Texas at Cal
Sept. 17, 9:30 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2
Don’t overlook the Week 3 trip to Cal, whose rebuild from the loss of top overall draft pick Jared Goff should expedite with the arrival of Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb. This looks like one of those swing games that could go either way and end up looming large toward the end of the season, perhaps as Texas tries to collect enough wins to save Strong’s job.
The Longhorns have more talent than the Bears, but there’s nothing easy about traveling two time zones away for a night game.
Cal should be well positioned well at quarterback, replacing Goff with Webb, the former Red Raider who’s likely to be taken in the first round of next year’s draft if he can have a productive season.
Of note: Texas is the only Big 12 team that Webb never played against at Tech. And somewhere, Nick Rose will be watching and trying to stop his mind from drifting to last year, when his missed extra point with 71 seconds left cost the Longhorns in a 45-44 loss.
Cal, at a glance
2015: 8-5, 4-5 in the Pac-12. Beat Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl, 55-36
Triplets: QB Davis Webb (22-41-300, 2-0 at Texas Tech in 2015), RB Khalfani Muhammad (87-586-1), WR Chad Hansen (19-249-1)
Last time: Cal 45, Texas 44 (2015, in Austin)
The last five Texas-Cal matchups:
2015 — Cal 45, Texas 44
2011 — Texas 21, Cal 10
1970 — Texas 56, Cal 15
1969 — Texas 17, Cal 0
1961 — Texas 28, Cal 3
Last year: It’ll be remembered for three things — Jerrod Heard‘s record-breaking night, Rose’s fateful botched extra point, and the fact that Heard’s huge game was wasted in a loss that dropped Texas to 0-2. Heard produced 527 yards of total offense (364 passing, 163 rushing) to bump Vince Young from the school record book. A furious fourth-quarter comeback saw Texas score three touchdowns — a pair of 45- and 13-yard runs by Heard and a 27-yard run by D’Onta Foreman — after trailing 45-24. But the missed PAT was the killer, and it cost the Longhorns a shot in overtime. Goff, who’d go on to be picked No. 1 overall by the Rams, was 27 of 37 for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
Our 2015 coverage: Kirk Bohls’ column (“This was more millstone moment than milestone”); Cedric Golden’s column (“Heard offers hope for the future, but for the present, too”); our game story; five key plays; and a sider on Rose.
Next game on the schedule: At Oklahoma State.