There's no denying that 2010 was one of the worst Texas football seasons in recent memory, and probably the most disappointing since...well, since the last time we got rolled by UCLA at home. From here, it looks like Texas fans seem to have settled into two camps. There's what some might call the "54b" camp, who believe 2010 must be treated simply as an aberration and the expectations should not be calibrated. Then you have what could appropriately be called the "build it back up" camp, who would see 7-5 as a disappointment but a positive sign of improvement, 8-4 as just about right, and 9-3 as a very pleasant surprise.
There's something to be said for both approaches (and of course for other, more nuanced angles). The 54b angle is appealing because it demands immediate gratification: last season Texas lost a lot more games than it normally does. But the same head coach who has overseen over a decade of excellence is in charge, and the same top-5 recruiting classes that got him there are wearing the burnt orange this fall. The resources, the talent, and the know-how have now been combined with a lot of youthful energy on the coaching staff. Each football game is an individual story, and there's no reason to believe just because more of them ended badly last year than they usually do that the Longhorns won't get back to double-digit wins and a major bowl this year. After all, the head coach is paid $5 million a year--that's too high a price tag for a rebuilding job. The saying has always been that Texas doesn't rebuild, it reloads; there's nothing irrational about expecting the program to deliver on that maxim.
On the other hand, Texas was 5-7 last year. Those seven losses included some really embarrassing moments--program-changing, momentum-killing moments. It takes meticulous work and patience to build a house of cards, but only a slight breeze to tear it down. Last season was no blip on the radar; if it had been, Mack Brown would not be starting fresh with an almost entirely new coaching staff. This program has undergone fundamental changes in the last several months, and it's only fair to be happy with a solid winning season and a mid-major bowl game. Ask any other major program that has had an unexpected, devastating losing season: you don't just wake up the next year and compete for the national title. No, the goal has to be to incrementally work our way back to where we belong: 8-4 (or even 7-5, depending how the chips fall) in 2011 would be a huge step in the right direction, and perhaps we can restore our loftier goals for 2012.
Of course, there are several other options. You could choose a hybrid between the two: expect 10 wins because wanting greatness is more fun, but realistically be satisfied with eight. Or you can be even more doomsday than the build-it-back-up crowd, merely hoping to break even at 6-6 and improve on last season. Heck, you can make the decision that with a Boise-style offense, Texas-quality players, and a fiery young DC this team ought to defy history and make a bid for New Orleans this very year. Where on the spectrum are you?