Count ’em up. The Texas Longhorns have seven losses this season.
That’s as many as they had between the 2004 and 2009 seasons, when they took home a national championship and four other brand name bowl games. Now, the Charlie Strong coached team is on the brink to make it eight losses this season, heading into Waco this Saturday against Baylor.
There’s still a chance that the ‘Horns get to play in a bowl game now that there’s a need for five win teams to fill empty slots. Doubtful, but still a possibility. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy pointed out that there could be as many as five teams with losing records to land in one of the 41 bowl games. Should Texas be one of those teams in the running for a spot, it would no doubt have two of the best wins among teams like Kansas State and Nebraska.
Texas would have a win against Baylor and a victory over possible national champion, Oklahoma. That itself should be enough to get the Longhorns into a small-time bowl game. But record aside, why there’s even 82 bowl berths in the first place almost guarantees a spot for the five-win Texas team: Money.
The more games, the more viewership, the more money circulates. Not that it’s a bad thing for hosting cities, as they get a boost in the economy. Being the nation’s most valuable football program it annually is, Texas fans spread far and would certainly be able to create a spike in TV ratings that a team like San Jose State would not be able to pull, even with the same hypothetical record.
Texas football is drenched in history, and it’s keeping the program afloat even if the athletic director was let go mid-season. The mere thought that it is no longer relevant just shows its relevance, even if it’s in different terms than we used to think during the Mack Brown, era with nine consecutive seasons of at least 10 wins.
The past few seasons have seen a paradigm shift within the conference and state. Baylor and TCU are now the teams to beat, and Texas has become the whipping boy. Seeing the Longhorns drop down to sixth in recruiting rankings for the upcoming season shows a drop in total recruits. But the program name is still enough to attract three 4-star recruits, the same as its Red River rivals, Oklahoma.
Looking further down the road, Strong has already earned a verbal commit from two Top 20 recruits for the 2017 cycle, putting that class on pace to be the second-ranked group in the Big 12 behind Baylor. Of course, things can change very quickly in recruiting, so keep that in mind.
Strong told USA TODAY Sports before the season even started that he feels these future recruits — and the 2016 class in particular — will be the true sign to what he can do on the sideline.
“I need to have a good class with 2016 to match this class I just had. If I can do that, I’ll have me something. Some guys are committed but I still need to get some more guys on board because the thing about freshmen, this class, it’s hungry. They’re really hungry.”
This season, Texas was still able to reel a top ten recruiting class and has already seen linebacker, Malik Jefferson, blossom into one of the nation’s most versatile defenders. There is talent on the board, but it has not always shown up on the scoreboard as the 4-7 record indicates.
But as the game against Oklahoma showed this season, that talent can click together in the right circumstances. The year before, Texas had another signature win over a Top 25 team, beating a red-hot West Virginia. If this program can keep winning at least one top game, there will always be a thought in the back of fan’s minds that this team is still relevant.
That little inkling of hope combined with the rich history of the program will keep Texas a relevant program. But should Texas hook the Bears this weekend, it will be relevant for an entirely different reason:
Winning in spectacular fashion.