- May 29, 2001
I find myself at a weird crossroads of expectations for the University of Texas football program.
Every year, it feels like a chore to ask the Longhorn head football coach about expectations for the upcoming season. From Mack Brown to Charlie Strong to Tom Herman (up until the 2020 season to his credit), almost every question related to a definable bar that would outline what represents both success and failure proved very hard to pin down. Of course, determining the success is usually the easy part. It's nailing down what represents failure that becomes really tricky.
For instance, few coaches want to come right out and say that an 8-4 season is a failure because that word sounds so harsh to the ears of people that can't separate emotionless bar-setting with the excuse-making/reasoned explanation that sometimes arrives inside of a season that falls short of goals.
Herman's team was a failure last season by fairly high standards. The Longhorns didn't qualify for the Big 12 Championship game, let alone win the championship, which is sort of a not quite Big Boy way of determining minimum levels of success in a 10-team league.
Yet, Herman bristled at the thought of his team in such harsh terms. He'd almost certainly point out that the 2020 Longhorns finished with the second-best winning percentage of any Texas team since 2009, only bested by Herman's 2018 team. He'd say that only two other teams since 2009 that wore burnt orange finished the season with higher final rankings.
He'd be right, but by the standards of the program the season was a failure. It just turns out that the standards around here have dipped to such places that last season was merely the least terrible failure in a decade that specialized in them. That the season got him fired seems like an even more significant data point when it comes to defining what represents failure around the 40 Acres.
A .700 winning percentage will cause eyes to roll. Finishing in the Top 20 sounds like the kind of thing Aggies put up banners for. Any references to the last decade when it comes to establishing expectations for the program might lead to a fight, depending on the anger levels of the people in the conversation.
I bring all of this up for two simple reasons.
a. Steve Sarkisian seems to be embracing a high bar for the program going into his first season.
b. The schedule is far trickier than most Longhorns fans probably realize as evidenced by the fact that ESPN's FPI lists the Longhorns with the nation's 4th most difficult schedule.
With Sarkisian, it's almost what he isn't saying as much as what he is saying. For instance, unlike the previous two coaches in Austin, there's been virtually no passive-aggressive shade pointed at the old staff. There's been little talk about how much heavy lifting has to take place before this team takes off. Instead, Sarkisian points towards what he believes is an elite coaching staff and seems content to expect them to pull more out of the players than the previous staff.
At 47 years young, Sarkisian has been involved at the highest levels of college football since his late 20s. He's been on teams that were going for national titles, coming off of winless seasons and pretty much everything in-between. The best sign from this spring is that he just hasn't come across as a complainer about anything. It doesn't quite feel like a spring where everything is new, even though it is. Considering this is a team that could have gone 10-3 (or 9-4 at worst) last season in a 12 game schedule, there's zero signs of tamping down expectations.
Normally, I'd be leading the charge in celebrating the lack of hemming and hawing leading into a season, but...
This is a team that is replacing its quarterback, left tackle and best pass rusher.
This is a schedule that has at least six dangerous games on the schedule: Louisiana, at Arkansas, at TCU, Oklahoma, at Baylor, at Iowa State and at West Virginia. Two of those games are against pre-season Top 10 teams, and neither are at home. Four others are on the road at places that can be described as dangerous. People are going to accuse me of issuing this warning as some sort of click-bait plan, but Louisiana is a hell of a season-opener when you consider it went 10-1, won its conference and finished higher in the national polls than the Longhorns did.
I'm not telling you that you shouldn't dream. I'm not telling Sarkisian that he shouldn't dream. What I am saying is that the Longhorns were just a pretty decent team a year ago, are replacing plus-players and the three most important positions on the field and are playing a schedule that will mess up any team that isn't really, really good.
Full transparency - I'm going to have a hard time picking the 2021 Longhorns to do better than 9-3 and if Sarkisian gets them over that kind of line, I'll personally view it as a sign of a very good (and improved) coaching job worthy of praise.
This 2021 was always going to be tough on paper in a quarterback changeover year with the two most difficult games on the schedule away from Austin.
Sarkisian doesn't seem to be overly concerned with his all gas, no brakes mantra.
Personally, I feel like a bit of a worrywart.
No. 2 - Buying more Hudson Card stock...
You guys know that I'm president of the Hudson Card Fan Club. You know that I think he should have been a five-star in recruiting. You know I have picked him to win the starting job over Casey Thompson this fall.
So... take what I'm about to tell you with a huge grain of salt.
Keep buying your Card stock.
In talking with multiple sources over the weekend, it was the second-year quarterback from Lake Travis who seemed to be coming out of the weekend with some momentum.
"Both quarterbacks are still making mistakes that the coaches know need to be cleaned up," one source said. "I hate talking about them because if you praise one, it can sound like you're taking a shot at the other, but Hudson was really good (on Saturday). It was just one scrimmage, but he was the best quarterback to my eyes. He's about where you'd probably want him to be."
Another source was even more blunt: "Don't sell your stock."
No. 3 - A few weekend Texas football notes...
* "Best player on the team is Bijan Robinson," one source reiterated over the weekend. "That guy looks like the kind of player this staff is already used to seeing."
* Jordan Whittington continues to impress on a daily basis and is right behind Bijan Robinson when it comes to importance in the offense, but both sources I spoke with over the weekend mentioned Marcus Washington as a receiver that has made some forward progress.
* The offensive line is still a major work in progress. "We just don't have enough good players. This is where recruiting at a high level really matters because I didn't see a single player that I thought could play for our best teams (under Mack Brown).
"If Bijan ever gets consistent blocking from this group, he's going to put up crazy numbers because he had a couple of big runs on Saturday that were all him. He's something else.":
* One source I spoke with on Sunday stressed that the Longhorns have three plus-players among the running backs and receivers - Bijan, Whittington and Roschon Johnson, although the source was very reluctant to mention Roschon in the same group with the other two. Despite mentioning Washington at receiver, this source indicated he wouldn't dare put him in the same category as the others mentioned, but that he "stood out from the rest of those dudes".
* There remains a significant buzz about Troy Omeire. It seems to be a combination of everyone believing he's going to be very good and the rest of the players at wide receiver making so little of an impression that it's hard not to focus on him.
* The defensive line is going to be a team strength if its battles against the offensive line are an indication of anything.
* David Gbenda has been mentioned in every practice report we've had and he was the only linebacker mentioned on Saturday. "I'm only mentioning him because he's the only one I remember (standing out)," one source mentioned.
* I specifically asked both sources I spoke with over the weekend about incoming transfers Ray Thornton and Darrion Donn, but neither was really mentioned. "I didn't notice either of them," one source said.
No. 4 - Coming to college football very soon ...
It's only a matter of time in my estimation.
The next round of movement in college football/athletics will look a lot more like what's happening in European soccer than anything we've previously seen.
There will be hurt feelings for those that get left out.
No. 5 - Five quick thoughts on UT hoops...
* I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm finding the team-building through the transfer portal to be absolutely fascinating. It feels like Beard is putting together a team full of basketball mercenaries and I... am... here... for... it. Before it's all said and done, Beard is going to have one hell of a dangerous squad on paper.
* Come on down, Jericho Sims. Run it back for one more season.
* I am new to the Terrance Arceneaux bandwagon, but I really want to watch this kid play college basketball on an every night basis if at all possible. Dude has a great name, exciting skills and body language/swag that screams big-time college basketball player.
* I've reached a point where I'm fully expecting Texas to get UTEP transfer Bryson Williams. That dude might as well be an adopted child of Rodney Terry at this point after following him to both Fresno State and UTEP. Speaking of Terry, it's wild having him back in Austin because I'm old enough to remember him recruiting in Austin before there was wide-spread Internet attention on the program.
* Close your eyes and imagine this off-season if Shaka Smart had remained in Austin...
No. 6 - A message to the UT baseball program...
No. 7 – BUY or SELL …
Chris Beard and Texas make 2nd weekend in 2022 tourney?
Buy: I'm like a movie producer on cocaine in the 80s with the basketball program.
The WR struggles make it more likely Casey wins the battle because of his scramble abilities.
Sell: Choo-choo! It won't be announced until late August, but I'm still on the Card Express.
B/S Herman is still the coach at UT if Houston picks Orlando over Major?
Sell: The rest of that first staff was still always going to need to be fired.
B/S. You are genuinely a happy man today and expect to be so the remainder of this year, both personally and professionally! (Hope so sir. )
Buy: Yeah, I'm cool.
B/S Texas has a first team all Big 12 running back and wide receiver this year
By the end of the year, the OL will be the best since 2008-2009
a. Buy - I'm buying Whittington stock if I can find it. He's like Bitcoin.
b. Sell - I don't see the line being remotely that good. Not yet.
Sell: I've been with my wife for 16 years and I wouldn't and don't do it now. Have some damn respect.
B/S Thunder and Lighting will combine and rush for north of 1,800 yards for the season.
B/S Pete Kwiatkowski turns up the heat and makes sacking the QB a priority. The Texas defense will go north of 25 sacks.
Double Buy - Yup and yup.
B/S UT taking 7 OL in the 2022 recruiting class is a must instead of a should? Any guesses who they might be?
Sell: I think five is fine, especially if it's fine that averages 4.25 stars per prospect, but if they can load up the right seven guys, I'm not going to argue with you about its merits because of the obvious circumstances.
No. 8 - Scattershooting on the weekend...
... I hope this new, oft-injured version of Kevin Durant coming after his huge injury a couple of seasons ago is just a one-off, but I wonder if it's the start of a new kind of beginning for him over an 82-game schedule. He's just gotta get right and stay right in the postseason. Same with LeBron.
... Give my man Joel Embiid the MVP right now, damnit!
... I am not ready for the NFL Draft. I need another 10 days or so. 🤣
... What San Francisco does at quarterback with the No. 3 pick feels so huge. The Shanahan Era moving forward will pretty much be decided by it.
... I can't believe I missed the debut of Austin FC. I'm still sad about it.
... Messi is a world-wide treasure... like Miley Cyrus.
No. 9 - A life confession
For the first time since 1986, I am not a full-time resident of the Austin area.
On Thursday, the Ketchum family picked up and moved to The Woodlands in an effort to be closer to my wife's family, among other reasons. The plan is to have a second residence in Austin for work purposes, but make no mistake about it, my primary residence has changed and it has my brain slightly scrambled.
35 years is a damn long time to be in one place. I never left Austin for college. I never left Austin for work. I never left Austin for anything. Hell, even though I've been in Cedar Park for the last 18 years, my residence was still in Travis County because of a weird section of the 78613 map.
It's such an identity marker that I haven't been able to tell anyone about it over the course of the last couple of months because... I just didn't want to. Yet, as we got closer and closer to the big date this past week, I felt a calm about the situation that was much-required.
A fresh start was needed, not just for my family, but for myself. I'm just not sure I noticed until it happened.
Being in Austin once or twice per week feels like a soft separation of sorts, but the reality is that a divorce has occurred. For the first time in my entire life, I'm stepping out of my comfort zone.
I suppose this settles the Houston vs. Dallas debate once and for all. Sorry Houston.
No. 10 - And Finally ...
Guys, get ready for the single biggest set of online auctions in the history of the site.
Beginning on Monday at 11 a.m, we'll begin a series of five different days of online auctions as we work towards our goal of raising $25,000 for the JimsTexas Scholarship fund. Good friend of the site Robert Hurst will be aiding us with a number of UT-themed pieces to help raise money for the scholarship fund. The fact that Robert has been able to help us with this event, despite his current battle with cancer means the world to me.
There will be a couple of pieces of sports art that we will list that will have minimum amounts listed to them because they are being sold by Robert as fights his own battles, but I'm really happy to say that this will be the biggest silent auction we've ever done in the history of the site.