Last year, it was simple: "Pasadena or bust." There was so much to win, but just as much to lose. And for a few shocking, paralyzing moments, which saw Bo Pelini's arms raised to the sky in triumph, we tasted the horror. Fortunately, Hunter Lawrence got a chance, the players got to dog pile, and the fans got to take another trip to the Rose Bowl.
Even though the title game didn't turn out as we hoped, the season was a success. Although the way it went down -- losing McCoy five plays into the game -- surely helped ease the burden of defeat, I suspect that even more important to that acceptance were our experiences from the near-misses early in Mack's tenure. The 2001 Big 12 Championship. The 2004 shutout in the Red River Shootout. This time, we got there, to the national title game, and that's all you can really ask for. Sometimes you're going to pull out a 41-38. Sometimes it's all going to go wrong. Someone's gotta lose, but only the two teams who are playing have a chance to win.
Looking back, it can almost feel dirty to think about the disconnect between Mack Brown's successes during his first seven seasons and our discontentment as fans -- as though we were a bunch of entitled brats ungrateful for our comforts. But that's the difference between winning 10 games and winning the conference (at least as far as Texas fans are concerned, that counts 2008, systemic foolishness be damned), and it's only in achieving the latter that Mack Brown could begin to earn credit for the former.
LEGACIES ON THE LINE
At this point, the goals for the program are now the same every year: win the conference, be competitive for a shot at the national title. The only variation is in the degree of urgency attached to achieving them. To fall short last season would have seemed calamitous; this year feels much more like 2008.
Two years ago it was clear that the stars were aligning for a national title run in 2009, making the '08 season as much about preparing to maximize that opportunity as anything else. Thanks to McCoy, we almost got there a year early, while by season's end the defense had taken the big steps forward needed for a Pasadena run.
It looks to me like the stars are once again aligning for a national title run a year from now. The only difference is that this time, it won't be a shock if Texas gets there early. The 'Horns will field a top five defense, and if the offense is above average when it counts the most, this team can run the regular season table.
But that is the story this year -- the offense. The narrative 2010 is about Greg Davis, Mack Brown, and offense. After 2008, Will Muschamp had developed a championship caliber defense, they have one again this year, and will for the foreseeable future. It is the offense that stalled last year, and it is the offense which must develop this year. And if we want to be grand about it, the success or failure of the endeavor will play a defining role in both Mack Brown and Greg Davis's legacies at Texas.
Texas need not get there this year. Garrett Gilbert is a first-year starter. The offensive line is thin, its most promising players young. Next year's receiving corps can be special, but it may take most of this season to sort out. And the scheme is in transition.
On that last count, my Fozzy fantasies are just that. I may love the kid, but this is the year of Cody Johnson, as we prepare for the era of Malcolm Brown. It won't be the end of the world if Texas loses games this year if along the way there's meaningful progress and development on offense to set up next year. Next year, Gilbert will be a junior with a full season of starting experience. The offensive line will start to look like an asset, with better depth. Malcolm Williams, Marquis Goodwin, Mike Davis, DeSean Hales, D.J. Monroe, and Darius White will be a frightening group. If a piano hasn't fallen on his head by then, Barrett Matthews will be a terrific weapon at H-back.
And forget Thunder and Lightning: if Mack Brown and Greg Davis succeed in the challenge before them this year, Texas next season will be hammering opponents with both Cody Johnson and Malcolm Brown. Thunder and Thunder. Good luck in the 4th quarter, defenses. And with stopping Garrett Gilbert on play action.
There's your narrative. Play to win this year, but however things play out, get this offense in gear for next season.
Oh, and retain the Boom. By God, whatever it takes... retain the motherf**ng Boom.