The Longhorns used to take winning six games for granted. They never talked much about being bowl eligible.
Ten wins used to be the benchmark Texas strived toward and reached nine years in a row. Last season, that streak came to a screeching halt and winning six games suddenly meant something again. Being bowl eligible is no longer an afterthought but a goal that the Longhorns consciously try to achieve. And it’s a goal the Longhorns achieved by trouncing Texas Tech, 52-20, this past weekend.
“The six wins are significant,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “We understand the weight that carries. Becoming bowl eligible was obviously one of the goals that we weren’t able to achieve last year.”
The 10-win plateau that Texas constantly topped is still within reach. With four games left on the regular season schedule and a bowl game looming, the 6-2 Longhorns stand a good chance of reaching a double-digit win total. Their final four opponents can all beat them, starting with Missouri, who might be the best 4-5 team in the country. But Northwestern might give the Tigers a run for their money after upsetting Nebraska in Lincoln this past weekend.
“I told the guys, let’s don’t talk about six,” said head coach Mack Brown. “Let’s talk about 10.”
Now that Texas has qualified for the postseason, it needs to try to make the bowl game a good one. The Big 12 has affiliations with Fiesta, Cotton, Alamo, Insight, Holiday, Texas and Pinstripe bowls but eight of its teams could go bowling if Oklahoma State wins out and plays in the national title game. Even Oklahoma has an outside chance at reaching national championship contest while Texas has a slim shot at playing in the Fiesta Bowl.
“The younger ones really felt like, ‘Oh, this is cool. We’re bowl eligible,’” Brown said. “The older ones said, ‘Now, let’s figure out how nice the bowl is that we’ll go to.’ And that’s the type of mentality you want.”
The Longhorns are pleased people are talking about which bowl they’ll go to after not playing in one last year. Texas fell a win shy of bowl eligibility and about five short of people’s expectations in 2010. But the Longhorns have won six of their first eight games in 2011 and will likely be favored in at least two of their last four.
“It means a lot, especially when we sat at home during bowl week and watched everybody else play in a bowl and we got to eat cupcakes,” said senior guard David Snow. “The next goal is to beat Missouri. It’s another brick that must be laid. We’re not looking past them.”
The Longhorns averaging 440 rushing yards per game and outscoring their opponents 95-20 over their last two contests are glaring signs they’re going in the right direction. A 10-win season would be an even more definitive sign. But many Texas players are insisting they’re focused solely on their upcoming contest against the Tigers, even with the lingering possibility of winning 10 games.
“We’ll find out in the coming weeks,” Snow said. “We can’t get to 10 wins if we don’t beat Missouri.”
The Longhorns might not have returned to their former glory yet, but it was unrealistic to expect that this season. The brick-by-brick process was not supposed to be a quick one. But the fact Texas is bowl eligible early enough in the year to start another streak of 10-win seasons is a sign of drastic improvement. The next step for the Longhorns is beating Missouri and putting a dent in the Tigers’ hopes to go bowling, while bolstering the quality of the bowl they play in.
Printed on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 as: Bowl eligibility carries new meaning for Texas