ESPN projects Texas to reach Alamo or Russell Athletic Bowl

USA TODAY Sports

Who is up for another trip to San Antonio? Hey, where are you going?

Lists, lists, and more lists are the accepted way of getting through the torturous college football offseason, so in that spirit, ESPN's Mark Schlabach and Brett McMurphy released their admittedly "way-too-early" bowl projections for the 2014 season last week, with no particularly good news for the Texas Longhorns.

Of course, maybe that shouldn't be a surprise with some major question marks surrounding the quarterback position and the offensive line, coupled with the most difficult strength of schedule in the conference.

Here are the entire projections for the Big 12:

Bowl McMurphy Schlabach
Russell Athletic Clemson vs. Kansas State Notre Dame vs. Texas
Buffalo Wild Wings Oregon State vs. TCU Oregon State vs. TCU
Liberty Oklahoma State vs. Tennessee Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss
Texas Texas Tech vs. Texas A&M Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M
Alamo Texas vs. UCLA Kansas State vs. UCLA
Cotton Baylor vs. Georgia Oklahoma vs. Cincinnati
Sugar/Peach Alabama vs. Oklahoma Georgia vs. Baylor

Since there are several changes in the bowl agreements for the Big 12 this year, it's difficult to find the most current selection order, though the Big 12 blog notes that a Russell Athletic finish would put the Horns in the bottom half of the conference, while also saying that Texas Tech is expected to finish low in the standings as well.

Last year, the selection order went like this:

  1. BCS - Tostitos Fiesta
  2. AT&T Cotton (SEC)
  3. Valero Alamo (Pac-12)
  4. Buffalo Wild Wings (Big Ten)
  5. National University Holiday (Pac-12)
  6. Texas (Big Ten)
  7. New Era Pinstripe (American)

The two new bowl games are the Russell Athletic and the Liberty Bowl, so let's assume that the Liberty Bowl replaces the Pinstripe and the Russell Athletic Bowl replaces the Holiday Bowl, meaning that McMurphy has Texas as the league's No. 3 team and Schlabach has the Horns as the No. 5 team, if those assumptions are correct.

As much as Texas fans have looked down on appearances in the Alamo Bowl, it has been raised in the league's selection order over the Holiday in recent years and finishing third in the conference with this particular team would probably represent a successful year for new head coach Charlie Strong and his staff.

The Russell Athletic Bowl? Probably not so much, but there's such a wide difference in the possible trajectories of this team depending on what happens with David Ash and whether the line can hold it together that even a No. 5 finish in conference probably isn't the worst of the worst-case scenarios, though it's not far off, either.

Neither McMurphy nor Schlabach have Kansas, Iowa State, or West Virginia going to bowl games and the Texas Tech defense is probably not going to be any good again, while the offense will have to deal with the losses of Jace Amaro and Eric Ward. Throw in Oklahoma State losing a ton from the 2013 group that competed for the Big 12 title and there's already five teams that should be worse than Texas. The Horned Frogs don't exactly have their offensive situation figured out either, but the defense should be able to keep the team competitive.

So unless things go completely sideways, Texas should finish in the top half of the conference, with games against Oklahoma, Baylor, and Kansas State on the road all difficult match ups to win.

As for the projected bowl opponents for Texas, even a game in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Notre Dame would have interest because of the history behind the two programs. In fact, the organizers of that bowl would probably love to have those fan bases descend on Orlando.

The Longhorns and the Fighting Irish have met 10 times dating back to 1913, with the Golden Domers holding a major 8-2 advantage of the burnt orange, with the last meeting a close lose in 1996 when both teams were ranked in the top 10. The two teams are set to meet in four upcoming seasons -- 2015, 2016, 2019, and 2020.

As for a potential rematch against UCLA, that's probably less appealing after the early-season game in Arlington goes down. Throw in the fact that the Bruins will likely be a better team and ending the season with another Alamo Bowl loss doesn't seem like a great way to end Charlie Strong's first year at the helm.

UCLA teams have after all given Texas two of the worst losses the team has suffered in the last 20 years, including the infamous Route 66 in 1997 that helped end the coaching career of John Mackovic in Austin and the 2010 disaster that at one point represented the worst home loss in the Mack Brown era, a distinction that quickly gained a lot of competition in the years since.

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