The University of Texas travels to Fort Worth in an unfamiliar role, the underdog. After an embarrassing opening loss to Notre Dame followed by consecutive heart-breakers against good, not great major conference teams, the Longhorns travel north in desperate need of a season-salvaging victory. But regardless of what happens Saturday morning at Amon G Carter Stadium, the questions surrounding UT and their place among college football’s elite will still remain. So, that begs to ask, is Texas, still Texas?
Coach Melissa: In a word? No. Texas hasn’t been Texas since Colt McCoy went down against Alabama and in a college football landscape ripe with parity, I don’t that they can ever regain the dominating presence they had for so long. Will they be able to outspend people? Always. Do they sell more t-shirts than anyone outside of Alabama? Probably. But are they the dominating presence that was almost single-handedly responsible for the biggest realignment shift in college football’s modern history? I just don’t think so. You don’t have to go all that far back to prove the point that the Horns are no longer the end all, be all in college sports - really, it was only two short years ago that they got their comeuppance. After dispatching with Mack Brown as the head of their once illustrious football program, UT went all in on Bama coach Nick Saban, and fell flat on their face - nice raise for Nicky, though. Depending on who you ask (and who you believe), Charlie Strong was somewhere between their first and oh, about one millionth, choice to lead the Burnt Orange back to the front of the pack. And while it’s too early to say the StrongHorns experiment has failed, the early returns have been less than stellar. While Strong has brought the pride back to the Horn herd and separated the wheat from the chaff in the locker room, his influence has been based on perception and hope, not on wins. Because frankly, the Horns just haven’t done much of that early in his tenure. And that’s just football! We haven’t mentioned the Steve Patterson debacle, the boosters, the facilities… suffice it to say, the climb back to the college football mountaintop will be steeply uphill.
Mason: January 4th, 2006. Pasadena, California. Rose Bowl. Vince Young, 4th and 5. That game is still one of my top 3 favorite college football games of all time, as well as one of the huge reasons why I started watching the sport. Despite coming from a bloodline of maroon, I’ll always tip my hat to the mid 2000 Longhorns for the unforgettable moments that they gave me, whether it be wins or losses that I would later root for. Alright that’s the nicest thing I’m going to say about UT all year. Texas sucks. The University of Texas football program has absolutely no excuse to be this bad. The amount of money that they put into that program rivals Notre Dame (vomits) and Alabama. A huge reason for the long dominant run and success that Texas had, was in no small part to the recruiting abilities of Mack Brown. Coach February was a popular nickname of his, due to all of the blue chip recruits that he would reel in on signing day. The better his team got on the field, the lesser the need for Mack to ever out coach an opponent. Back then the biggest threat to the Horns on the recruitment trail was their biggest rival in the conference: Oklahoma. Of course not all programs can stay bad forever and the rise of other programs in the Big 12 was inevitable. Oklahoma State’s big seasons in 2010 and 2011, RG3 winning the Heisman in 2011, Texas A&M’s move to the SEC and program turn around win against Alabama in 2012, and TCU’s arrival in the Big 12 have had some negative impact on Texas’ in-state recruiting. The only reason, that I can see, that big time recruits would want to play down in Austin for 4 years, is because of the legends that they grew up watching and they want to wear the same color as those that came before. Texas also had a good knack for getting their players to the next level, but that was then. The Longhorns still have the deep pockets that they had 10 years ago, but their program doesn’t have the same identity. This isn’t the same Texas that shook the landscape of college football whenever they lost.
Whether or not Texas remains a supreme being in College Football, the more immediate question still needs to be answered: can Charlie Strong win at Texas, and how long will it take him to do so?
Coach Melissa: Well, he certainly can. The fact of the matter is, the UT roster is still littered with four and five star recruits on both sides of the ball, and if it wasn’t for some disastrous misses at the quarterback position, this is still a ten win team, in all likelihood. The problem for Strong now is that the top talent in Texas, kids that were assuredly going to accept a Texas offer if it were to be given, are a lot less likely to make that automatic any more. A few years ago, the fact that Daje Johnson kept the Frogs on his short list was pretty amazing, and when he dropped them for the Horns right around signing day, it was almost a foregone conclusion. That’s just simply not the case anymore. While there is still a certain cache to Texas and OU, the competition for the four and five star kids is as intense as it's ever been. The top flight skill position players want to go play in a spread offense, and will choose a TCU, a Baylor, a Tech, etc over UT or OU. These kids want to play in the system they played in high school, at schools with top flight facilities, and where they can see the field sooner - not get buried on the depth chart. The competition for the best in Texas is a whole new beast in 2015 - and it doesn’t look like the little guys are going away any time soon. For Strong, who won with lesser talent at Louisville, it remains to be seen - can he turn two star recruits into four star players (something Gary Patterson has made a living off of), or will he be like his predecessor and turn five star talent into two star results? Or at the very least, can he ensure that the top 25 classes UT will likely continue to sign live up to their full potential?
Mason: Charlie Strong, who caught my eye at Louisville, who had a knack for developing some of my personal favorite players - Teddy Bridgewater and DeVante Parker - got chosen as Texas’ date to prom because all of Texas’ other choices already had hotter dates, or turned them down. The teams that Texas had in the mid 2000s were a lot like the teams that Alabama fields now; never rebuilding, just simply replacing. There was never any doubt which team was the more TALENTED one. Well, as much as it doesn’t pain me to say this Longhorn fans, "Varsity’s horns are sawed off" and Texas has some rebuilding to do before they can get back to the top. To all those Texas fans that think Texas can rise back to the top by next year, WAKE UP! Don’t be so arrogant to think that a flaming trainwreck, falling off the side of a cliff, driven by Matthew McConaughey, can be saved by just one man in one day. Strong helped put Louisville on the map and into a power 5 conference (with help from the school’s basketball program as well). I admire Strong for doing his best to establish a certain set of standards in his players and holding them accountable to a higher standard. He will succeed at some point, but I don’t see Texas truly competing for a national championship until 2019, at the earliest.