When enough reader emails come in on topics worth exploring publicly, I'll put a post together for the site. This is one such time. As always, you can email me any time with questions or comments. I'll never use someone's full name in a post unless they explicitly okay it.
PB, When I read your Look to 2009 post for the first time I am not going to lie: I wasn't very comfortable with it. I felt dirty. Like, Lubbock dirty. I think my first reaction was: "Teams like Texas Tech have to wait for the planets to align just so to dream big. But Texas? Not Texas." I will say though that over the past few days I have come around quite a bit. Even so - here's my question for you and if you want you can just make this a post instead of emailing me back. Though I actually think what you wrote makes a great deal of sense, I can't help but still feel dirty if I try to look past 2008. So what I'm wondering is whether you or others who agree with the 2009 target have any hang ups about burying 2008. Even when I try to think about the exciting parts of what could be a great 2009, I hate the very idea of counting out this year already.
Thanks, Brendan L.
With everything else I wanted to lay out in the 2009 post, I only got to address in passing the issue you raise, and truth be told, I'm actually a little surprised I didn't receive more feedback along the same lines of your email. Regardless, your excellent email provides me an opportunity to flesh out the reasons why I'm as enthusiastic for this fall as I am the big opportunity of '09...
The truth shall set you free.1 I'm not exactly suggesting you take what I write as the word of God, but... I'm telling you, this may be the most excited about a Texas football season I've ever been. Seriously, the opportunity I think Texas has both to put together an exciting 2008 and build for 2009 is downright intoxicating.
And certainly for this fall, my confidence in the direction I think Texas football is headed is refreshingly liberating and a welcome break from the anxiety of preceding seasons. Walk back through the Mack Brown era with me, noting along the way the various expectations heading into the season as well as how things actually panned out:
1Alternate titles to this post: "PB Finally Loses It" and "After Four Years of Blogging, You Can Rationalize Anything"
2007 Expectations: Colt will build on his terrific freshman campaign! Jermichael Finley will be unleashed as a terror on the nation! Jamaal Charles, Heisman Finalist! The pass defense would have to be historically awful not to improve! We're gonna win the Big 12!
2007 Actual: I'm not sure which sucked harder, having to pen this or this . It was so bad one almost wished Texas would lose the Holiday Bowl just so we wouldn't have to ever hear about 10-win seasons ever again.
2006 Expectations: Admittedly, the lead in to this year was fun. Defending national champions!!!! Who freaking cares if we have a freshman QB - we're the returning champs!! Expectations were still mostly sky high, with our loaded secondary and solid skill position talent fueling some wishcasting about a repeat trip to the BCS Title game.
2006 Actual: Despite the rude dose of reality from Ohio State in week two, we amazingly found ourselves right in the thick of things until that mess of a game in Manhattan. Then, before we could even process what happened, we dropped a home game to Frannypants. Worst of all, the players didn't even seem to care. The depressing effort deserved a depressing bowl bid, which we got.
2005 Expectations: There was some buzz, some real excitement, some "Don't you dare burn me again" hope... and still, a lot of fear of Oklahoma. Inevitable when you've lost five straight, seemingly by an average score of 74-6.
2005 Actual: The highlight of my sports life. And I don't mean that it's heretofore been my top sports moment. I mean that it will never be surpassed: I was there. In Pasadena. Watching the most exciting football player imaginable. Who brought Texas back from 12 in the game's final six minutes. Scoring the game winner on 4th and 5. Against a team which hadn't lost in three seasons. Nu-uh. Topping that would require a script so unrealistic even Friday Night Lights would dismiss it as implausible.
2004 Expectations: "This Vince Young stuff is fun enough to set aside the growing consternation in the fanbase over Mack Brown's worth as a head coach. Yay?"
2004 Actual: Featured one of the lowest lows of the very long lowlight film, "Ten Years At Texas: How One Man Crushed A Whole State With Only A Bubble Screen." There are three men and no women (none are unimaginative enough) on this planet who could coach a team with Cedric Benson and Vince Young to zero points in a football game. Try coding Vince Young, Cedric Benson, and 0 points into the same computer program and enjoy that error message: "Parameters lead to impossible result. Please reconfigure." (I could keep going...)
2003 Expectations: Texas was ranked preseason #5, but you wouldn't know it from Texas fans: Mack Brown's contingent of doubters was nearing its apex and Chance Mock was the projected starter.
2003 Actual: In week two, Arkansas rushed for 265 yards in a DKR ass whipping. Four weeks later, Jason White won the Heisman Trophy. By this time, Texas fans were almost unsurprised.
2002 Expectations: Can a fanbase even have expectations when 90% of it is still sitting in Texas Stadium, trying to drink away The Horror? Or when 95% of the fanbase stares confusedly if you mention the name Chris, but recognizes the topic "Texas starting QB" if you say Christina?
2002 Actual: A hobbit of a running back caps his career against Texas with a 250-yard performance, upping his four-year total against the 'Horns to 2,300 yards and 19 touchdowns. A loss to Texas Tech provides the cherry on top. By season's end, Texas fans are regularly having to endure cackling from the rest of the college football world.
2001 Expectations: Preseason #5. A loaded defense, promising offense, and some real hope that this was The Year for Mack Brown's Texas Longhorns.
[Cue music. Roll credits.]
And just in time, I'd say. I've no doubt half the BON readership was on the verge of relapse, and as the saying goes: one year-long heroin binge is one too many.
Though walking year-by-year through that whole thing might have been a little bit gratuitous, I want to make clear I'm asserting quite seriously that I'm finding my present mindset thoroughly enjoyable.
Lumbering into recent football seasons with big expectations has mostly proved burdensome for fans. Save that glorious VY respite, Mack Brown's tenure in Austin has done well in creating expectations, but too often poorly in meeting them. And though I've said repeatedly Mack will retire a "good coach" in my own eyes (2005 was the greatest gift ever), during this offseason I've come around to the idea that the pitiful loss to A&M in November was the best thing that's happened to Texas football since Vince Young left campus.
I've gone back and read dozens of times this post, written three days after that loss. Though I can still remember the bit of sheepishness that accompanied writing what could have proven so foolish a post, it's since then served instead as the foundation for my renewed energy and optimism about Texas football. Within six weeks of that post, a string of events gave credence to the idea that Mack Brown had decided to lead a new life of sorts after that loss to A&M:
* The bowl workouts reflected a shift in priorities.
* The bowl game showcased a Texas football team with some actual fire.
* Most important of all, the blowout bowl win that might have lulled Mack Brown into relaxing a bit was briefly celebrated but not allowed to distract from the surging tide of change.
* Duane Akina was demoted.
* One of the very best young defensive coordinators in the game was hired.
* Not only that, but Will Muschamp is not a country club 'yes man.' He's loud, he's fiery, and his superstardom lies in precisely the qualities Mack Brown has always avoided surrounding himself with.
* Under-discussed due to the avalanche of other good news was Mack's decision to shift Ken Rucker to a full-time role as a mentor and guardian of sorts for the kids on the team, a move I love more every time I think about it.
* As a side benefit to that great move, the path was cleared for Mack to hire Major Applewhite. There has never been more hope for Greg Davis.
* And finally, after inking what was only a good 2008 recruiting class, Mack Brown, Will Muschamp, and Major Applewhite are destroying 2009, with a class that will be a consensus top three group when it's all said and done. And the recruiting outlook for 2010 (yes, already) is just as exciting.
Though I've once again unnecessarily spelled out each and every point, it's really a reflection of my bubbling excitement. And all of the above is why my current Mental Happy Place is a combination of contentedness with any speed bumps in '08 and a different kind of positive hope for what might await in '09.
This fall, circumstances being as I described in the Narrative, the only way Texas could truly disappoint me is if the season provided counter-evidence to the idea that Mack Brown is on a new course after the bottoming out in College Station. Beyond that, the fall will be a success, with Texas either putting together a terrific run this fall or, where it falls short, do so in a way that keeps building towards a potential peak in '09.
So it's not at all that I've ruled out a great season for Texas this fall. I've just mentally ruled out a bad one, where even a rough go through a challenging schedule can still represent more positive steps down the right road.
If anything, the guy who was sheepishly hoping for a Hallmark ending seven months ago has been replaced by the Texas football version of Joel Osteen, unapologetically gushing with confidence that we're on The Path to redemption.
So don't worry one bit about whether I'll be enjoying the games this fall. If anything, hope for my sake that things go well in '09, because if they don't... I'll be the Texas football version of Ted Haggard.