One foot in the grave

The conventional wisdom took a season-long vacation last year.  There's also the conventional wisdom, the status quo, within the Longhorn community.

Here's one:

If you're losing to A&M or Baylor, you have one foot in the grave. If you lose to both of them, you're a goner.



The tell of the tape:

1956 Ed Price (1-9, 0-6 SWC) Lost to Baylor, 10-7; lost to A&M, 34-21.

1976 DKR (5-5-1, 4-4 SWC)  Lost to Baylor, 37-21; lost to A&M, 20-10

1986  Fred (5-6-0, 4-4 SWC)  Lost to Baylor, 18-13; lost to A&M, 16-3

1991  DMc (5-6-0, 4-4, SWC) Lost to Baylor, 21-11; lost to A&M, 31-14

1997  JMc (4-7-0, 2-6 B12) Lost to Baylor, 23-21; lost to A&M, 27-16

So, with two consecutive loses to A&M, Mack does have one foot in the grave.

Those coaches represent all Texas coaches after Blair Cherry, who left on a 9-2 season. Royal only lost to BU twice and A&M three times and the only time he lost to both in one year was the season he retired.

Fred Akers twice lost to A&M and BU in the same season, '80 and '84 - and lost bowl games to North Carolina (Bluebonnet, 16-7) and Iowa, 55-17. He was skating on thin ice, recovered a little in '85 with an 8-4 record before the '86 finale.

McWilliams didn't take long to step into it, losing to both BU and A&M in '88 and '89 before the bell tolled after the third time in '91.

Mackovic lost to both in his second year, '92, which should have been an omen, and only beat them both in '95 and '96. When '97 came around, there was no doubt it was time to exit.

So, that brings us to Mack. He's beaten Baylor convincingly every year, although last season's 31-10 victory was the closest since the opening 30-20 win. The Aggies have been a tougher nut. They won the year of the Bonfire disaster, 20-16, and then the last two years. Would they 'retire'  Mack for the BU-A&M double? Maybe; they want to keep him around, just like DKR.

I don't think that is a threat this year or next; but after that Baylor could be much more dangerous.

Opportunity and Focus

This arcana is just a minor interest in a hot summer. While most of the concerns here are for how well we can do this year - with little or no cheerleading like last summer - there is the possibility that last season''s earthquake could continue this year in college football. Conventional wisdom says it was just an anomaly.

If there was a major change, I personally doubt that the result would be parity, not for a while anyway. The BCS system pumps much more money to the top than to the middle or bottom and that spells dynasty, just like in any other economically slanted system.

However, there could be more tactical strategies designed to attack the weaknesses of those growing dynasties. Just like the DeathStar, they all have weaknesses on any given year. I would contend the UT loses to KSU and A&M were precisely that, very specific attacks against very specific weaknesses - not from the other teams' overall strength.

Indeed, there is a window here for smaller school teams or even ne'er do wells to earn a little more cash if they had a winner clause. I sure Appalachia State wishes it had one. Perhaps it's a get-rich-quick type of scheme but really, just a redeployment of what resources they have. The team builds toward the model it needs for success, perhaps losing games in the process it might have won or had a chance, but aiming for success on the big stage. Sheep may stay meek but football coaches don't. Even if they don't get more cash, upsets mean a lot of exposure and celebrity, which our press manufactures by the boat load. You're seeing it happen right now in the Olympics. All those athletes are working for a future.

So, one of the assets this year is that the Horns will be an unknown quantity for a while. This won't last long, no more than a month or two. But we don't have the big target right now. OU, Mizzou and Kansas do - and now, especially, Tech. Ayyyy, matey, I see the jolly roger. Fire away.

Texas will be emotional targets for UTEP, CU and Arkansas. That will require a mature response, but I feel good about that. Despite a lot of youth, there is a solid core of experience on both sides of the ball. Those upper classmen, individually and as a group, will have to maintain the team emotional equilibrium - when to get the adrenalin up, when to be serious and stay focused.

This season is about controlling the focus. What talk that is coming out through team interviews, particularly Colt's, is that this year's squad is much more of a team than last year's. I'm not sure what that means exactly, but it implies a lot.  It's a pretty good backhand to last year. I don't know if this is more about emotional maturity or the physical on-the-field maturity - or both. I don't know if this a statement as a product of their regimen since last November or a qualified observation over time.

Perhaps the sense of importance of the games themselves has changed. The coaches listed in the beginning all had their ups and downs; Mack has been up a long time, so it is possible the last two seasons have been his low spot.

Usually that is due to a number of variables, not just one (aside from the coach). Maybe the team, maybe everyone, just got too big for its breeches, so to speak, and they finally got grounded. One foot in the grave will do that.

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