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 probably would 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 of the schedule.
We’re breaking down all 12 opponents, divided into four separate phases of the schedule:
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).
THE TOSSUPS: Three winnable (and losable) games
Game 8: Baylor
This is perhaps the most unpredictable game on Texas’ schedule. There’s no telling what Art Briles’ old team will be up to seven games into the season.
Deflated by the loss of their coach?
Fueled by the constant attacks against the team’s culture?
Beaten down by the lack of depth brought on by the unraveling of a recruiting class?
Anything is in play.
In a sense, the Longhorns will be looking into a mirror, at least offensively; new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert runs an up-tempo system similar to the one Briles installed in Waco and has handed over to his son, Bears offensive coordinator Kendal Briles.
This also will be a big day for the four Baylor defections turned Longhorns — Devin and Donovan Duvernay, J.P. Urquidez and Patrick Hudson.
Baylor, at a glance
2015: 10-3, 6-3 in the Big 12. Beat North Carolina in the Russell Athletic Bowl, 49-38. Started the season ranked No. 4, ended it ranked No. 13.
Triplets: QB Seth Russell (119-200-2,104, 29/6 in 2015), who was a Heisman favorite last October after he put up impressive numbers in a road win over West Virginia before suffering a season-ending neck injury in the Bears’ next game; RB Shock Linwood (196-1,329-10), who’s only 203 yards away from breaking Baylor’s career rushing record; and WR KD Cannon (50-868-2), who set six school records as a freshman in 2014 but took a back seat to Corey Coleman last year.
Last time: Texas, 23-17 (2015)
The last five Texas-Baylor matchups:
2015 — Texas 23, Baylor 17 (Waco)
2014 — Baylor 28, Texas 7 (Austin)
2013 — Baylor 30, Texas 10 (Waco)
2012 — Texas 56, Baylor 50 (Austin)
2011 — Baylor 48, Texas 24 (Waco)
Last year: The trivia answer of tomorrow? That Texas was the final Big 12 game of Briles’ career, just as Baylor was the final Big 12 game of Mack Brown‘s. The Longhorns’ 23-17 season-ending win in Waco was officially an upset — 12th-ranked Baylor, after all, was on its way to a bowl game and Texas, which was 4-7 going into the game, was not. But the Bears were hobbled, down to their third quarterback and without their best running back, and were shut out in the first half for the first time since 2011. Nick Rose kicked three field goals, including a career-high 53-yarder, Chris Warren III followed up his big Thanksgiving night performance against Texas Tech with a 106-yard effort against Baylor, and Tyrone Swoopes produced a couple of touchdowns. It was Texas’ second win over a Top 15 team and the first win over a ranked opponent in a true away game since 2012.
Our 2015 coverage: Our game story (“Longhorns finish disappointing season in style”); a sider on Baylor’s offensive inadequecies; Cedric Golden’s column (“Charlie Strong’s future depends on eliminating the blind spots“); Kirk Bohl’s column (“For Charlie Strong, eight is enough in 2016 .. maybe“); five key plays; and an expanded boxscore.
Next game on the schedule: At Texas Tech