For Texas football fans, gazing at an upcoming schedule for the first time typically reveals a host of virtually guaranteed wins, with only several games on the schedule providing cause for concern. The Red River Rivalry, trips to College Station or Lubbock, schools on the upswing like Missouri in 2008 and Oklahoma State this season, the occasional strong non-conference tilt. In regards to sure victories, a look at the 2011 schedules instead reveals a series of landmines.
After all, the Longhorns have to travel to UCLA, Baylor, Texas A&M, and Iowa State after home loses to those opponents in 2010, haven't beaten Kansas State in seemingly forever, and have to face the national-title contending Oklahoma, one of the strongest Oklahoma State squads in recent memory, and a surging Texas A&M squad, as well as a BYU team that appears on the rise after a strong finish last season. After the debacle that was Texas football 2010, the only clear wins look like Kansas and Rice, with a win over Texas Tech in Austin probable based on recent history -- the Red Raiders haven't won in Austin since the John Mackovic era.
Cast in that light, a prediction for the season could easily fall in the range of seven or eight wins -- and that's reasonably optimistic. So even though moral victories hardly matter in the bottom-line world of college football and sports in general, the argument here is that the first half of the season is more about the process instead of the results.
In fact, a conversation overheard on the radio with Butler head basketball coach Brad Stevens, one of the rising young coaches in the game, comes to mind. Before the national championship game against UCONN, Stevens talked about his team focusing on the process instead of the results, that he would be proud of his team regardless, but believed that success with the process would result in a win. By approaching the game in that manner, Stevens allowed his players to approach the contest with the same thought process of every other game -- just execute.
For a team looking to gain confidence and simply execute on a consistent basis, focusing on the process can pay dividends. While a tough, close loss is often disheartening, improved play from the quarterback position, offensive line, and honing in the trail by fire of the young cornerbacks would all be positive signs for a Texas football team focusing on building this season brick by brick. Though the yearly slogans Mack Brown creates often fall more under the category of cliche than truly uplifting or inspiring, "Brick by Brick," the 2011 motto, is highly apropos given the need to focus on the small elements of success that clearly fell by the wayside last season.
Rather than taking a more macro approach to the season focused solely on end results -- certainly the approach every season by a fanbase with sky-high expectations -- the process for 2011 involves a micro approach with the coaches putting players in positions to succeed, better mental toughness from the team under duress, better decision making at the quarterback position, better conditioning. It involves focusing and practicing hard and preparing hard and approaching every game like it's the most important game of the season. Like many of Mack's previous slogans, all of those elements previously mentioned that feed into success may sound like cliches, but they do lay the groundwork for success.
Entering the season with uncertainty and/or a lack of separation at nearly every position on the roster, the typical goals of winning the South Division (which no longer exists), winning the Big 12 championship game (which no longer exists), and winning the bowl game (becoming bowl eligible is more important), don't apply this season. In fact, with the changes in structure to the Big 12, winning the conference and the bowl game are now the two remaining goals for nearly every season. For 2011, though, focusing on those goals loses sight of the process, the now, the moment in which the players need to be highly engaged.
Of course, at some point the process has to start feeding into positive results. If Texas can't go into Ames and beat an Iowa State team that lost its quarterback, running back, and tight end, then the process is not advancing. Same thing with Texas Tech and Kansas, a winnable game and a must-win game. Point is, by the end of the season, the process is no longer going to be enough -- the Longhorns will need some tangible improvement in the guise of actual victories.
The hope is that by relieving the pressure created by the typically results-oriented approach to a football season, by focusing on improvement across the board in all the little things, by the time November rolls around the 2011 version of the Texas Longhorns can be a strong and exciting football team to watch that can compete with some of the top teams in the country by doing the little things right.
Brick by brick.