Some years, the season narrative is difficult to define, like a year ago when the team had a good deal of potential but there were too many unknowns and young players to expect greatness.
Let us be clear: 2013 is not such a season.
The 2013 Texas Longhorns are as well-defined as a college football team can realistically hope to be, with a roster stocked full of highly regarded recruits who are now upperclassmen with starting experience. As Matt Hinton put it over at Football Study Hall:
With 22 players back who started at least five games in 2012 and a dozen more with some starting experience in their careers, the 2013 Longhorns have played more football together than any other team in the nation. It's entirely possible the starting lineup this fall will consist exclusively of juniors and seniors. And given that they play for Texas, the expectations that follow are bound to collide with the outer limits of optimism.
I'm not sure that I'd call it optimism, per se, but there absolutely are expectations: Texas fans expect this team to win a lot of football games. It's as simple as 1-2-3. As is the 2013 Season Narrative:
(1) Beat OU. (2) Win the conference and/or make a BCS Bowl. (3) And move on if you can't.
The 'you' here would be Mack Brown, of course, and for the 2013 season to be defined by anything other than an ugly, wearisome conversation about Mack Brown, his deficiencies, and his future at Texas, the Longhorns' head coach needs to meet those two goals. Texas needs to beat Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl this year. And the team needs to win the Big 12 and/or play well enough overall to earn an invitation to a BCS Bowl.
Reboot and Rebuild
Although it hasn't necessarily felt like it, as Mack Brown prepares for the 2013 season, he and Texas are in many ways right on schedule. Setting aside the circumstances that led to Texas' catastrophic 2010 season, once Mack Brown said he was committed to returning the program to excellence, the objectives by which many fans were going to evaluate Brown going forward were (1) to make a clean break from various members of the old regime, (2) hire and develop a strong coaching staff, (3) demonstrate meaningful improvement across the 2011-12 seasons, building towards (4) a title-contending season in 2013.
By those measures, Mack Brown's efforts to reboot and rebuild the program have been largely successful. Why, then, all the hand wringing and distrust from Texas fans? More than anything else, the negative sentiments owe to two things: (1) the blowout loss to OU in 2011, and (2) the blowout loss to OU in 2012.
There may not be any amount of success in other areas that can fully make up for a dispiriting loss to Oklahoma. Not the way the Sooners dominated us two seasons ago when David Ash was a freshman, and especially not after getting routed as thoroughly and spectacularly as UT was in 2012. Those losses were "dispiriting" in the same way as walking in on your spouse with his or her lover: shocking, nauseating, unspeakably humiliating events potentially fatal to your relationship. In the wake of last year's ass kicking, Scipio Tex spoke for many fans when he wrote, simply, "It's over."
Win and/or Go Home
Even the most strident of Mack Brown supporters seem to recognize that anything less than a victory over OU and a conference title-contending season will be deflating beyond repair. Mack Brown will always be celebrated by many for his success restoring Texas to prominence in the 2000's and delivering the program's first national title in 35 years -- and rightly so -- but for the here and now, none of that matters. Brown was given the opportunity to reboot and rebuild, and now it's time to deliver the goods.
If he can't... well, for a dozen different reasons it's not pleasant to think about that, not the least of which is that most Texas fans can't stomach spending another three months embroiled in as toxic an environment as will be the one surrounding the program if Texas stumbles this year. It will be vicious, nasty, and exhausting. And it will be the end of the road for Mack Brown.
There is a better way, though. As negative and fatalistic as all that sounds, let this uplift you: Mack Brown controls his own destiny here, and everyone's interests are aligned in one simple-but-crucial regard -- victories on the football field will be celebrated. Period. Full stop.
It's no secret that Mack Brown wants to end his career on a high note, and there isn't a Texas fan alive who would be disappointed if he does. Everyone will get what they want, and that for which Mack Brown was hired: wins. That, and Sooner tears.
So regardless of how one feels about the past three years, and whether or not one supported Brown's retention, we are where we are, the season is nigh, and we all want the same thing. Wins.
Mack, it's time to win or go home. But we'd much rather you win and go home.