As the Texas Longhorns attempt to emerge from two heartbreaking losses featuring late special teams mistakes, things might only get worse until they get better.
Such is the nature of a team facing an upcoming road game against S&P's No. 17 team in the TCU Horned Frogs and the No. 8 team in the Oklahoma Sooners.
Just how difficult is the Texas schedule this season? The Longhorns currently rank second in the CFB Matrix strength of schedule metric and project to finish the season in the same spot after facing an upcoming schedule that ties for No. 8 nationally.
Throw in the two winnable games that turned into losses and the outlook for making a bowl game is quite bleak, according to the advanced stats from SB Nation's Bill C.:
|Opp. F/+ Rk
|26.5 - 40.4
|20.9 - 39.2
|26.2 - 26.9
|at Iowa State
|26.8 - 27.7
|48.5 - 16.9
|at West Virginia
|15.7 - 40.8
|38.3 - 37.0
|28.7 - 42.6
An explanation of this table is here.
So Texas currently looks like a team that could easily be bowl eligible with an easier non-conference schedule and some better luck (or better execution). Instead, three wins is the current projection from the pure win-loss pespective, with swing games against Kansas State and Iowa State looming before the month of October ends. Overall, the cumulative projected wins prediction is a little more favorable, as it basically picks the Horns to come out with one of those too-close-to-call games in the coming month.
Of all the projections on the remaining schedule, a potential home loss to the Wildcats and a road loss to the Cyclones, a program that only has one victory over the Horns in 12 tries, seem a bit odd -- Kansas State hasn't played anyone yet, not even a Big 12 opponent, while Iowa State boasts losses to Iowa and Toledo in addition to starting the Big 12 schedule a week late. Surprisingly, the Hawkeyes are the No. 33 team by S&P, while Toledo beat Arkansas and a holds a No. 50 ranking, two realities that looked unlikely heading into the season.
Keep an eye on those teams in the next several weeks, then. The Wildcats play the Cowboys and Horned Frogs the next two games, providing some much better perspective on whether the Fightin' Bill Snyders are ready to come into a DKR and emerge with a victory. The Cyclones, meanwhile, will face off against the Horned Frogs and Bears in the two weeks before hosting the Horns.
If Texas can play more competitively against TCU and Oklahoma than Kansas State and Iowa State play against Oklahoma State, TCU, and Baylor over the next several weeks, those win probabilites will likely swing in favor of the Longhorns and push that expected win total up to five.
Of course, if Texas Tech continues to surge, that game's win probability could flip in favor of the Red Raiders by Thanksgiving.
Perhaps the biggest surprise among the remaining games is just how good West Virginia has been this season -- the Mountaineers currently rank No. 1 among all Big 12 programs and No. 3 overall, in large part due to a defense that currently ranks No. 9 in S&P+ and an offense that ranks No. 14 in the same metric.
For some historical perspective on how difficult this season has been already and could become, Texas hasn't started 1-3 since 1956, has had only two four-win seasons in modern history (1988 and 1997), and hasn't won fewer than four games since Ed Price went 1-9 in 1956 to usher in the Darrell Royal era.
With the presence of hapless Kansas in the Big 12, a winless conference season seems out of the question, but reaching bowl eligibility looks equally as unlikely at this point, a major development since this young team could benefit tremendously from the 15 extra practices afforded by reaching the six-win mark.