What needs to happen for Charlie Strong to have a successful debut at Texas?
Published: Monday, 11 August 2014 15:39
by Zach Barnett
Zach: I've been asked about this a lot and, while I have genuinely no idea what to expect or what final record to forecast, I do know three things Strong needs to do to complete a successful 2014:
1) Completely separate the ideas of "Texas football" and "soft" in people's minds - Strong's predecessor was (often unfairly) accused of being soft. Mack Brown's 2004-05 and 2008-09 teams were anything but soft - even if the latter group did struggle to run the ball at times - and I always wondered how a soft team could string together as many comebacks as the Longhorns did for the past 16 years, but perception is reality. Early reports out of Austin say Strong has revoked his players' memberships to the proverbial Burnt Orange Country Club, but it needs to show up on the field. Strong can't control the talent or schedule (more on that next) he inherited, but he has direct influence over how tough his team is to play.
2) Beat (at least) one of UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma - On the bright side, Strong won't have the same issue Kliff Kingsbury faced last season, where Texas Tech earned a 7-0 start and a No. 10 ranking without beating a single team that would later become bowl eligible. No, Strong gets to face three preseason top 10 teams in his first six weeks. If Texas starts 7-0, its subsequent top 10 rankings will undoubtedly be earned. No one is expecting that (smartly) but Strong needs one of these games to serve as his hat hanger - and he needs that team to finish the season around where it starts for that win to have a shelf life that lasts until February. (And if you're ranking these games in order of importance solely focusing on their implications within the Lone Star State, it would go Oklahoma first, Baylor second and UCLA a distant third.)
3) Close the season with momentum - After Oklahoma, Texas closes like this: vs. Iowa State, at Kansas State, at Texas Tech, vs. West Virginia, at Oklahoma State, vs. TCU. A number of winnable games, but packed full of land mines, particularly those trips to Manhattan and Lubbock in consecutive weeks. Strong's stock answer when asked about recruiting is he's glad that Signing Day isn't until February, giving Texas time to build momentum between now and then. A 5-1 finish gives Strong and his staff some substance to point to when hitting the living room circuit this winter.
Scott: I believe the only way Charlie Strong can succeed at Texas is to stay true to himself. There are simply too many distractions at UT, if he tries to appease everyone, he'll never get it back on track. I don't believe that results on the field matter that much this season. But I do believe that high school players and coaches want to see a better attitude on the field and in the locker room from the Longhorns' players, because the 2015 signing class is going to be important for Strong's long-term success at Texas. Strong needs to sign four or five program builders, leaders who he can plant his flag with and say, "These are my guys. These are great examples of the kinds of players that are going to lead this program back to greatness."
Doug: When you hear the name Charlie Strong, you think "defense", and in order to compete at the level that the Longhorn faithful are going to demand, Texas is going to have to get back to dominating on the defensive side of the ball. The last time that Texas ranked in the top 25 in scoring defense was 2009, which is far too long ago for one of the premier programs in the country. With games against UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma (all of whom averaged over 30 ppg last season), the defense is going to be tested...and that's not even counting the gauntlet of offensive firepower among the rest of the Big 12. In closing, I think that Charlie Strong's debut will be considered a "success" if the Longhorns rank in the top 25 in scoring defense. If you look back at the teams in that range dating back to 2007, that means allowing around 19-22 ppg, and I think if you can do that in the land of the Big 12, you're going to be successful.