If you have ever shown up to a decent number of Texas home football games on time, you are familiar with John Steinbeck’s take on the Lone Star State. The Pulitzer Prize winner is known for saying that “Texas is a state of mind,” “an obsession” and “a nation in every sense of the word.”
After a mind-numbing, but not all that surprising, 42-24 loss to newly-crowned Big 12 champion Kansas State, the Longhorns must be in a disillusioned state of mind if they think that 8-4 is progress. Wins in either of their last two regular season games would have given them a chance to play in a BCS bowl game.
Instead, Texas is playing in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Oregon State. Northern Illinois’ win over Kent State in the Mid-American Conference title game last Friday vaulted it into the Top 16 of the BCS standings, bumping Oklahoma from a possible Sugar Bowl berth to the Cotton Bowl. That left the Longhorns to accept an invitation to the Alamo Bowl, a step up from the Holiday Bowl they won last season, but not where they were expected to be.
“We are excited about the opportunity to play in the Alamo Bowl against a great Oregon State team,” head coach Mack Brown said. “I’ve known Mike [Riley, Oregon State head coach] for a long time, have tremendous respect for him and am looking forward to a great game”
Last year’s 8-5 was a step in the right direction, a three-win improvement from the dismal display the program put on the previous season. This year’s 8-5 is a massive step in the wrong direction, proof that Texas isn’t back to what it can and should be. And Texas will likely be an underdog against Oregon State, like it was last weekend against Kansas State.
“I would like to say sorry because us, as seniors, did not get them back to where Texas has been,” senior safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “There is a bunch of younger guys and a larger senior class and the team will have more help out there.”
If anyone should be absolved from blame for the program’s decline, it is Vaccaro, who the Texas secondary will sorely miss next year.
The Longhorns’ brand may come in handy when Signing Day comes around or when officials from prestigious bowl games are considering who to invite. But all the facilities, money and six-digit attendance figures in the world ultimately do not develop prospects or evaluate talent.
They are not of any service when a 6-foot-1-inch, 200-pound quarterback from Tyler, Johnny Manziel calls Texas, expressing serious interest in joining the program and is told, instead, that he can play safety on the 40 Acres. All that before the Longhorns sign Belton’s David Ash and Manziel comes to the brink of becoming the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
“I actually called them and expressed interest to them and let them know just how much I wanted to be a part of that program,” Manziel told the Dan Patrick Show last week.
“Everything happens for a reason in my eyes and that door didn’t open for a reason.”
The aforementioned Ash was available to play against Kansas State but did not take a single snap as his backup, junior Case McCoy, threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns. McCoy completed 17 straight passes at one point, one shy of his older brother’s school record, but it was not enough as he was also picked off twice and Texas could not hold the 17-14 lead it held until the final minute of the third quarter.
Any hope of making significant progress this year has been lost. And unless serious changes and improvements are made, it will be a while before any progress is made.
Because, with every disappointing loss and underachieving season, the Texas name is beginning to matter less and less.