In the eyes of any given burnt orange beholder, the season opener for the Texas Longhorns against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can be a hundred different things.
A chance to reverse a substantial history of losing to Notre Dame that is virtually unparalleled in Texas history.
A critical moment in the head coaching career of Charlie Strong with the Longhorns.
A chance to impress a horde of top recruits who will be in attendance, including key targets Baron Browning, Marvin Wilson, and Walker Little.
A chance for revenge.
A chance for redemption.
For the players, none of those things really fit.
“I don't say it's revenge or redemption,” said sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson. “I think it's just an opportunity for us to go out there and win the game. Every opportunity you've got to take advantage of.”
Senior wide receiver Jacorey Warrick just thinks it’s another big game.
Another senior, linebacker Tim Cole, reflects on how far the baby ‘Horns and the team overall have come in the last year.
“We're a lot wiser,” Cole said. “We're a lot older. Picking up back on the end of the season last year, we know when the wins we got last year, we know where we could be as a team once we put everything together, so I think that's more motivation now than anything, to know where we can be once we put our minds to it.”
In the past, the team wasn’t always ready to take advantage of opportunities, whether it was due to inexperience, the doomed experiment with Shawn Watson attempting to install a spread scheme, or fractures between the older players and the younger players.
But the wins against Baylor and Oklahoma last season do indeed provide a template. Perhaps not in offensive strategy with a new coordinator in place or even necessarily defensively as the game plan adjusts to take away the strengths of opponent. The template is in that togetherness, the effort, the consistency of it throughout the game.
With it, Texas can compete with anyone. Without it, the ‘Horns can get shut out on the road in Ames — those sound like buzzwords, but all of it matters.
This is also a game the Longhorns have been anticipating throughout the program’s longest offseason since the last time Texas missed a bowl game in 2010. Nearly nine full months.
“You know, we've been waiting since last year,” Jefferson said. “Ever since after that loss last year, it's been a kind of waiting period. A lot of guys went out on a good note after defeating Baylor, and we're really excited.
“We're working really hard to try to keep each other focused and to have our minds ready for this game. It's been a great time, and I think a lot of guys are really excited to get out there.”
So it’s about the wait, too, the offseason spent enduring head coach Charlie Strong playing film of games like Iowa State around the football facilities, where the Texas players have rather infamously spent much more time engaged in the now-notorious battles in ping pong and supposedly altering the team’s chemistry for the better as a result.
“Words can't really describe the kind of way the locker room was there when I first got here and the way it is now,” said senior safety Dylan Haines.
All that’s just talk, though, typical offseason stuff, the kind of rhetoric that happens every single year. So for senior safety Dylan Haines, the operative word is validation.
“Winning this game would validate what I'm telling you,” he said.
Yet, the fact remains that Notre Dame is an excellent football team — projected to be one of the best in the country, with high-quality talent and experience at numerous positions. So Texas still needs to keep things in a larger perspective.
“Losing the game won't define the season,” Haines said. “Winning the game won't define the season.
“It's a week-by-week thing. Just because we beat Notre Dame doesn't mean that we're going to win every other game. At the end of the day, we've just got to prepare like we've been doing, do all the things that we've been taught to do, and then go out and win on Sunday.”
For Sunday, to borrow an old phrase from Strong, this isn’t about revenge or redemption, it’s about putting the T back in Texas.