Texas was supposed to be an improved football team this season. Maybe not good enough to challenge for a Big 12 championship, but at least better than what it showed at the Texas Bowl during a 31-7 loss to Arkansas in which it barely mustered a fight.
But that perception is already gone.
It disappeared quickly during the Longhorns’ season-opening loss at Notre Dame, a 38-3 setback that felt a lot like that Texas Bowl.
Texas coach Charlie Strong attempted to stay positive Monday, saying “we are just a better football team than what we showed.” But many will roll their eyes at that comment, especially after he told Sports Illustrated that his team needed to make a statement against Notre Dame coming off a 6-7 record in his debut season.
“I look at how last season ended. We can’t start off like last season,” Strong told the magazine two weeks ago. “Because everything you’ve built up to this point is gone in a matter of three and a half hours. Now you’re talking about trying to regroup and get them to go play 11 more.”
Strong’s worst-case scenario has arrived. Notre Dame steamrolled Texas in every way, piling up 527 yards and limiting the Longhorns to 163. The Longhorns averaged 3.1 yards per play. Quarterback problems, as they have since the departure of Colt McCoy, continued to stand out. Not good.
“There was so much going against your favor,” Strong said, “that it is hard to zero in on anything that we really did well.”
A strong showing by Texas would have helped the Big 12 on opening week. TCU took care of business in the only other high-profile game, beating Minnesota. Baylor beat SMU, Oklahoma State beat Central Michigan, and Oklahoma pounded Akron.
But none of those games was billed the same as Texas at Notre Dame.
Oklahoma can give the conference a marquee victory at Tennessee next week. Iowa State over Iowa would be nice, too.
In the meantime, Texas will ready itself for a home game against Rice, which no longer feels like a gimme after the Owls scored 56 points in their first game. Then comes another home game against California, which could be difficult. Then it’s Oklahoma State, TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas State, all hard games.
If the Longhorns are going to improve on last season, they need to rebound quickly.
Here’s guessing someone at Tennessee will post a few quotes from Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops around the locker room for motivation this week.
When asked for his plan on dealing with crowd noise at Tennessee on Saturday – more than 100,000 should attend the game – Stoops scoffed.
“Come on,” Stoops said. “We’ve had Notre Dame and Florida State prior to that. We’ve been on this stage before.”
He seemed more open to discussing why he routinely schedules difficult nonconference opponents.
“We’ve had this philosophy 17 years,” he said. “If you’re going to be one of the top programs, you play other top programs.”
Players of the week
Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes was chosen Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 425 yards and four touchdowns against Sam Houston State.
Karl Joseph took home defensive honors after making eight tackles for West Virginia against Georgia Southern.
Texas Tech returner Jakeem Grant won special-teams honors with 210 all-purpose yards.
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