Column: Matchup with TCU opportunity to truly turn tide

Michael Shapiro

Head coach Tom Herman stood at his weekly press conference with the media on Monday afternoon and provided some encouraging news for the burnt
orange faithful.

“My confidence is at an all-time high,” Herman said. “And I think our players are too.”

The rise of the Longhorns’ morale is undoubtedly a good thing. After a three-year, 16–21 stretch in which Texas endured a slew of heartbreaking losses, a boost of confidence could help spring Longhorn football to its next era. Charlie Strong’s tenure as head coach was the nadir of Texas football in the 21st century, and it will be up to Herman to erase years of backsliding in the Big 12.

Texas has shown flashes of improvement throughout 2017. The Longhorns have brought both then-No. 4 USC and No. 11 Oklahoma State to overtime this year, and fell to No. 5 Oklahoma at the Red River Showdown by just five points. Throw in a victory on the road against current Big 12 leader Iowa State, and the Longhorns’ résumé is stronger than that of most 4–4 teams. 

But turning the page on a dark chapter of Texas football requires the Longhorns to actually break through against highly-ranked opponents, not just play them tough. Close-but-not-quite won’t help in the Big 12 standings. 

Saturday’s matchup with the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth will be Herman and company’s fourth chance this season to defeat a current top-20 opponent. Despite TCU’s 14-7 loss to Iowa State last week in Ames, Iowa, the Horned Frogs still remain in the top-10 of the College Football Playoff rankings, sitting at No. 8 with a 7–1 record. And don’t forget the recent history between Texas and TCU. The Longhorns have lost three straight in the series, by a combined score of 129-26. 

“There is some added motivation for the guys that have been on this team for a while, the juniors and seniors, that they’ve been embarrassed by this team and they don’t want to be embarrassed again,” Herman said. “This is an in-state conference team. We recruit against them. We see them all over the place all the time, and I know our guys, a lot of them played with or against a lot of the guys on their team and kind of ran around the same recruiting circles coming out of high school. So it’s a big deal when you play another team in our conference that’s from the state of Texas.”

Aside from the symbolic importance of Texas’ battle in Fort Worth, there’s also the whole matter of bowl eligibility. Currently sitting at 4–4, the Longhorns’ road to its first bowl game since 2014 is simple. Avoid a 1–3 collapse, take care of Kansas and Texas Tech at home, and qualify for postseason play. A win against the Horned Frogs would all-but clinch bowl eligibility, because, let’s face it, Kansas won’t beat Texas again this year unless this game is played at Allen Fieldhouse.

Texas’ confidence is at an “all-time-high,” which is exactly where it should be following a victory to 0–8 Baylor. It’s easy to be confident in your group following a 38-7 shellacking. But sustaining that success against a top-10 opponent on the road? That’ll be a far more difficult task for Texas on Saturday evening.