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Bohls: Texas baseball is back in Omaha, but do you know where your Horns are?

Kirk Bohls
Austin American-Statesman
Once, Texas athletics was touchy about the use of opposing fans' "Horns down" gestures flashed on national TV during games. But now, after the Longhorns have secured their second straight Directors' Cup as the country's top college athletic program, they're seeing it as a competitive compliment.
  • Texas' opponents are mocked with Horns Down gestures, but Chris Del Conte welcomes the gestures.
  • Longhorn pitcher Tristan Stevens sees all kinds of advantages for the baseball team in Omaha.
  • For the second year in a row, Texas stamps itself as the best program in the land, but at a cost?

While I got ya, here are nine things and one crazy prediction:

1. Where are your Horns? We all know where Texas’ opponents' are. They’re pointed downward, way down every time a television camera pans their way. We saw it all weekend at the Greenville Super Regional where East Carolina fans weren’t exactly bashful about extending their digits southward. “It’s an unbelievable compliment to the University of Texas,” UT athletic director Chris Del Conte told me Tuesday. “When we live in the brains and minds and hearts of individuals who go Horns down, it’s an incredible compliment. We’re glad you’re thinking of us. It tells you about the reckoning of the brand.” … So, is Texas the most hated program in America? “I do not know that, but as more successful the University of Texas becomes, you just see the vitriol where everyone goes,” Del Conte said. “You got to embrace that. I found it very humorous.” … Foes probably don’t realize that it fuels Longhorns athletes like few other motivators. For the record, Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle, whose Aggies face Oklahoma in their College World Series opener and could face Texas in the same bracket, said of the negative gesture, “I’m not a big fan of the Horns down. I think it's a tired act.” Schlossnagle coached TCU for 18 years. ... The NCAA even got involved Tuesday when one fan who was scheduled to sing the national anthem at the CWS was excused from singing because he flashed the Horns Down in the softball WCWS. Getting a little touchy.

2. More mo. Every team at the College World Series has a world of momentum and confidence for just reaching Omaha. But Texas has some advantages that the other seven do not. First of all, familiarity. Most of the Longhorns were on last year’s roster that made the CWS, went through all the hoopla and finished in the Final Four. “We’re old,” valuable pitcher Tristan Stevens told us for our "On Second Thought" podcast that airs Thursday. “I think that gives us a huge advantage." Second, want-to. Texas has unfinished business from last year after losing two of three bracket games to eventual national champion Mississippi State. Third, experience. Six current starters in the lineup were CWS regulars last June in designated hitter Ivan Melendez, outfielders Doug Hodo III and Eric Kennedy, middle infielders Trey Faltine and Mitchell Daly and catcher Silas Ardoin. Don’t underestimate how big that is. Dylan Campbell, a hero this postseason with four home runs so far, was a pinch-runner in a couple of CWS games. Stevens pitched twice with two no-decisions, Friday starter Pete Hansen threw once and closer Aaron Nixon twice. Schlossnagle says he has three players with CWS experience, all three transfers, and only six who ever played in a regional before this season.

Bohls: Texas baseball team overcomes all obstacles to return to Omaha — yeah, again

More: Tristan Stevens leads Texas back to Omaha with a standout start

West Virginia fans join the crowd and taunt the Texas football team with the ever-popular "Horns down," but UT Chris Del Conte said this week to bring it on. “When we live in the brains and minds and hearts of individuals who go Horns down, it’s an incredible compliment," he said. "We’re glad you’re thinking of us. It tells you about the reckoning of the brand.”

3. On top. Texas is the No. 1 college athletics program in the nation, bar none, which will become official when the final Directors’ Cup standings are released. And forgive those who dispute that and say, yeah, except for the two sports that matter, football and men’s basketball. That is an asinine sentiment, which is oft-repeated on social media platforms, and horribly denigrates the work and passion of UT softball and tennis players and golfers and rowers and tracksters and women’s basketball players and swimmers who are celebrating the finest all-around year in school history. The count for the school’s 19 sports is 10 that finished first or second in the nation. Think about that. … Asked if Texas will reap a financial windfall because of the spectacular success, Del Conte said, “That’s not how it works. But a united Texas is a reckoning. And when we are united, we can’t be stopped. I don’t know the financial impact of that right now, but our current success is partly because of the financial support from our donors. Everything goes up. Morale goes up. Support goes up.” … Then again, the year could cost Texas money because most of the coaches have financial incentives in their contracts. So there’s that. … And Del Conte deserves a lot of credit for hiring Mike White and Edrick Floreal (as does Mike Perrin for grabbing an under-the-radar David Pierce out of off-the-beaten path Tulane). Yes, Stanford is elite and won the Directors’ Cup, like, 25 years in a row, but the Cardinal don’t exactly have a bull's-eye on it like Texas does nor the pressure from fans or media. They’re just damn good at most everything they do and should be commended. But Texas is a different animal and has a target on its back, even more since its pending departure to the milk and honey of the SEC. (Do you notice that no one seems to care that Oklahoma is leaving the conference? I never see it mentioned.) … Steve Sarkisian and Chris Beard must do so much better than 5-7 and only one win in the NCAA basketball tournament. They’re paid to do much better and will, I’m certain. They should be feeling immense pressure from their colleagues as well as Longhorn Nation and, yeah, the media. But for now, all the haters must concede in the bigger picture, the stage where every sport matters. Texas is on top. … Travis Vick's year just keeps getting better. The junior, who sealed the Longhorns' national championship in golf with the closing match, tees it up Thursday morning in the U.S. Open. He's one of 15 amateurs in the field and one of four Longhorns.

Golden: Old rivalries are being renewed at the College World Series

4. Transfer rules. As of late April, the number of football players signed out of high school had decreased 20%, a CBS report showed. Meanwhile, the number of FBS transfers had doubled since implementation of the one-time transfer rule last August. Coaches are endorsing short windows in which players can transfer, like two weeks before mid-May and two weeks before the December signing period. I just don’t think administrators can put the genie back in the bottle. The rule will be regulated later this summer.

Texas head football coach Steve Sarkisian went a disappointing 5-7 in his debut season, but the Longhorns are hoping to turn the program around in 2022 as it heads toward the SEC in the next couple of years.

5. Football fix. Want an early fix with Texas football stuff from a few jump-the-gun publications? Well, Lindy’s magazine ranks the Longhorns 25th while Athlon puts them at No. 29 with a record of just 7-5. An anonymous coach told Athlon about the Longhorns, “When they get off the bus, nobody in college football looks better. Then they play you, and it all comes back to earth. They didn't play hard defensively last season. They either chose not to play hard or didn't know how to. You look at Red River tape and they're on fire, or try to be.  Watch them after three losses, and they're over it."

Having won four NCAA national titles, Texas will clinch 2nd straight Directors’ Cup title

6. Prospects galore. Saw a list of the projected top 200 players for the Major League Baseball draft, a 20-round affair from July 17-19. And I’m still shocked scouts aren’t drooling more over Ivan Melendez than they are. Many still see the Texas slugger as a one-tool guy even though he has played very well at first base. listed him as only the 115th best prospect in this draft. The report said he does have “plus-plus raw power” (duh) but “doesn’t have standout bat speed,” leading to concerns he could struggle against top-velocity pitchers. “Melendez still doesn’t offer much value beyond his bat, and a righty-hitting first baseman is the least attractive profile for pro teams.” Whatever. … Other draftables include Hansen (No. 125), a left-handed pitcher with killer slider and precision; Faltine (No. 149), a shortstop with concerns he’s overly aggressive at the plate and too pull-happy; Ardoin (No. 150), considered the best catcher in college baseball and who improved hitting numbers; and Hodo (No. 200), a speedy center fielder with some pop. All the Texas high school stars named are going to other schools save for Brandeis shortstop Jalin Flores (No. 91), who could easily sign a pro contract or would be draft-eligible as a college sophomore if he comes to campus.

Texas first baseman Ivan Melendez has bashed 32 home runs this season, which lead the country and also broke Kyle Russell's former school record. He'll be taken in next month's MLB amateur draft, which also could see a handful of other Longhorns selected, too.

7. Hall-worthy. Our selection committee for the Texas Sports Hall of Fame met in Waco to nominate candidates for induction. I nominated Texas administrator Chris Plonsky, who has been synonymous with women’s college athletics for 34 years and has served on pretty much every NCAA committee there has ever been. I know she can be polarizing, but no one can dispute her impact on women’s sports. … Plonsky was one of nine — yeah, nine — Longhorns on the primary and veteran ballots, which speaks to their contributions on such a grand scale as well as to the difficulty of picking those whose names grace the Hall. The others are Jordan Spieth, Colt McCoy, Keith Moreland, Carlette Guidry, Chris Gilbert, Priest Holmes, Christa Williams and Johnny Lam Jones. 

Bohls: Texas softball, Longhorn fans, Texas State baseball, all stand and take a bow

Replay: Texas returns to CWS after outlasting weather delay, East Carolina

8. Scattershooting. While wondering whatever happened to former Longhorn catcher Ryan Hubele. Our friend Scott Wilson tells me former UT outfielder Lance Jones lives in Corpus Christi and works in the power plant industry.

9. At the box office: "Jurassic World Dominion" is hardly the best of the series, but I’m a sucker for dinosaur movies. They broke no new ground, and the first hour positively drags. But it’s better than decent. Gave it 6 1/2 ducks.

Crazy prediction: Texas' next national championship will come in volleyball.