So here we are. 7-5 and a trip to the Holiday Bowl. It feels good and underwhelming at the same time.
The bid is both a reflection of an accomplishment and a let down. All year, my columns have acknowledged that Texas did things right, it rebuilt with realistic expectations. Its seniors mentored the team, while particular freshmen grew up throughout the course of the season. But still, there is that persistent nagging feeling that Texas still never reached its potential.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of reasons to feel confident about this team heading into the bowl game and next season. The first sign of excitement for the team to come is the secondary. Texas may be losing a few players to graduation and possibly the NFL, but with returners like Carrington Byndom, Quandre Diggs and Adrian Philipps who tormented wide recievers and quarterbacks all season, Longhorn fans can be confident in this unit next year.
Texas' running game is another aspect of the team that found some success to build on. The team averaged 210 rushing yards per game, thanks in part to the rise of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. However, the numbers are a little inflated as Texas couldn’t put together a complete run game in the final three contests of the season due to injury. However, if Brown and Bergeron are fully recovered by the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28th, we may catch a glimpse of what next season’s run game can do, especially since the Bears’ defense is statistically similar to most Big 12 defenses. The Longhorns will also add running back Johnathan Gray, 2011-12 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year, into the mix so Texas isn’t short of talent in its ground attack.
Texas will also have a pair of solid wide receivers moving forward with Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis. With a productive offseason, they could mature to be the next “Quan Cosby-Jordan Shipley” tandem circa 2008.
If you are like me, and are also battling this cognitive dissonance as you reflect on the year, perhaps it’s because the negatives of the season are so glaring that it’s hard to say Texas has a clear, positive trajectory moving forward.
The Longhorns badly need a quarterback. Texas had three different starters throughout the season, and still doesn’t know who the best man for the job is moving forward. With Garrett Gilbert out of the mix, Texas will likely go with Case McCoy, but he never made a strong argument that he deserves it. He had four turnovers against Baylor and still can’t throw the deep ball. Both McCoy and Ash showed signs of promise, but until they figure out a way to fuse two human beings together, their individual strengths are not good enough to make defenses quiver.
Texas is also in trouble of losing a lot of talent to the NFL and graduation. And while that is a great accomplishment for the players, it will be tough for Texas to immediately replace talents like Emmanuel Acho, Keenan Robinson, Kheeston Randall and even Justin Tucker, who bailed Texas out on multiple occassions with his golden boot.
If history is any indicator, Case’s older brother won the MVP in this bowl four years ago during another “rebuilding” season by Texas standards. California, however, boasts a good pass defense that barely gives up 200 yards a game. For Texas to not only win, but instill confidence in its fan base moving forward it will need to see Case McCoy manage a full, 60-minute game. In many ways, this is his chance to tie down the starting job for next season. The Longhorns need a win fueled by a display of his ability and leadership, because the perception between a 7-6 season and an 8-5 one is markedly different, and I know a win would do wonders to rid Longhorn fans of the conflicted feelings that currently dwell in the bottom of their guts.