Heading into his third year in Austin, Charlie Strong still has many questions that he needs to answer to keep himself in Austin, and out of the hot seat. It’s really easy to get put in that hot seat when you’re the coach at one of the biggest football programs in the country, especially when that program is Texas, and there are names like Tom Herman floating around. The best is expected at Texas, and so far, Strong has not brought the Longhorns back to being one of the best in college football, and if it continues, he’ll likely be booted for someone who can get them there.
So what exactly does he need to do to stay off the chopping block? Well the obvious answer is just “win more games”, but that’s not the only way to show progression in a rebuild. Texas is 41-35 in their last 6 seasons, and the continuation of the downward spiral that started in 2010 is something of great concern in the program now. In Strong’s first two seasons, the Longhorns have gone 11-14, and going from 6-7 in his first season to 5-7 last season is not cause for much excitement.
Thankfully, Strong has shown improvement pretty much everywhere outside of the win column.
Strong’s first recruiting class finished 16th in the 247sports rankings, his second finished 10th, and the most recent one, 2016, finished 7th. The 2017 class has gotten out to a slow start, but there is definitely still time, and plenty of top recruits considering Texas. Along with excellent recruiting, Charlie Strong has made a great effort in changing the culture of the program, kicking 9 players off the team upon his arrival as a way to make sure all the players left had bought into what he was saying.
Charlie Strong is building something at Texas, but the question is not if it will work, it’s when, and if results don’t start to show up soon there could be a new head man as soon as next year. Now, what will it take from Strong this season to convince the administration, as well as the players and fans that he’s building something special? Well, bringing in Sterling Gilbert, former Tulsa offensive coordinator is a big step in the right direction. Gilbert will bring an exciting style to an offense so lacking in excitement the last 2 seasons. He has quite a bit of talent to work with, and if he gets the offense in a groove they could be very dangerous.
Contrary to what some teams in the Big 12 seem to think, offense isn’t everything, and last season Texas didn’t rank in the top 20 in any defensive S&P metric. What about just the points they gave up? Last season Texas gave up 30.3 points per game, putting them at 87th in the country. In an offense heavy league like the Big 12, that just isn’t going to cut it. The defense has to improve this season, especially if the offense has growing pains under Sterling Gilbert (it will). How do they do that?
Vance Bedford spoke to local media yesterday and gave this quote:
“Attitude. The attitude of the team right now – offense, defense, special teams – is something we didn’t have last year in my opinion. Guys are focused, ready to go. They’re ready to prove that last year was a fluke. The off-season program, coach wanted an outstanding job. And those guys, they can’t wait to take the field just to go out there and play and hit someone else. And they’re excited right now. When the players are excited, the attitude is something I think is positive. And the coaches get excited. I’m excited to see these guys just go out there and play and have some fun. So I think the biggest thing is attitude”
Along with a new attitude around the program, Texas returns Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler, two very talented Sophomore linebackers, as well as Paul Boyette Jr and Poona Ford upfront, with Devante Davis, Jason Hall, and Deshon Elliott in the defensive backfield. There’s a lot of talent on that side of the ball this year, and as Bedford said, they hope to prove that last season was just a fluke.
With all of this in mind, and so many questions left unanswered coming into the season, the 2016 edition of Texas could be a very interesting, and potentially very dangerous iteration. Looking at the schedule, I could be talked into anywhere from 5 to 10 wins for the Longhorns this year, so my guess is 8 wins, and that’s about where Texas needs to be this year to keep Strong secure. The losses could obviously come from any game, but I’d say that the 6 most obvious will be Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, West Virginia, and TCU. I think they might win 3 or even 4 of those games, but they could also very possibly lose all six, and even if they do get out of those games with a winning record, they could still drop a game along the way to a team like Texas Tech or Cal.
In my mind, Charlie Strong almost certainly deserves a fourth and even a fifth year to continue his rebuild, but I’m not a Texas administrator, so I don’t get to make that call. This year, he has to show steady improvement on both sides of the ball, as well as in the recruiting and discipline departments, though most importantly, Strong’s Longhorns have to show improvement in rivalry games, and in the win column. Beating Notre Dame on Sunday could go a long way towards proving that the rebuild is working