A win against Iowa State on the road Thursday night will be the start to conference play the Texas Longhorns covet. Sitting at 1-2 in non-conference play, winning the Big 12 title this season is still within reach for the ‘Horns.
A win in Ames on Thursday night, though, will mean much more than keeping Big 12 title aspirations alive. Not only have nearly all of the current players never won in Ames, but a win on the road will mean Texas has actually taken a step forward, even if many more steps need to follow.
Whether we want to or not, we all remember how embarrassing the 24-0 shutout loss was for Texas and its fans the last time the ‘Horns traveled to Iowa to take on the Cyclones.
And any fan or observer of the Longhorns over the past three seasons prior to this one knows about the struggles these Texas players have had playing on the road going back to 2014; the first season of three for the Charlie Strong.
During those past three seasons, Strong and the Longhorns were 5-9 in true away games, excluding the Red River Rivalry games in Dallas against Oklahoma and the one bowl game in San Antonio against Arkansas in 2014 (Texas went 1-3 in those four matchups).
If we remove the 2014 season when Texas went 3-1 in away games, that 5-9 road record dwindles to just 2-8 over the past two seasons prior to this one.
Strong is no longer the coach and 2017 season is Tom Hermans’ first year in Austin, but even though Herman wasn’t around for the past three seasons, that doesn’t change the fact that he has a roster full of players who’ve lost more games on the road than they’ve won.
And the loss that Herman and his team received in his team’s first test away from Austin didn’t help change that fact, even if it was against a top-5 nationally ranked opponent.
As it stands now, there isn’t a single player on this roster who has a winning record on the road as a Longhorn. The seniors are 5-10, the juniors are 2-9, the sophomores are 1-5, and Herman’s freshmen are sitting at 0-1.
Even fifth-year seniors on this roster are 8-12 going back to 2013, the last season of Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas.
This game on Thursday night is huge for Herman and these Texas players, even if this is just Herman’s fourth game as the Longhorns head coach.
A win will signal progress. It will help validate positives that the close loss on the road against USC provided, whatever those may be. It will bring the Longhorns back to .500 on the season while keeping the main conference goal alive. And it will give Herman and these Texas players their first road win as a football team together in this new chapter.
A loss, on the other hand, will be another early blow to the Herman-era in Austin. It will create more questions, cause more frustrations, and leave fans wondering if this will end up being another season to forget in a series of forgettable seasons.
Every game in college football matters, but this game has a lot more riding on it than just a conference win. It’s the the type of game that could be a big defining moment for Herman early in his tenure at Texas, and it certainly won’t come without its own challenges either.
As the match-up goes, this will likely be a hard-fought game for the Longhorns. Texas may be entering the contest 12-2 all time against the Cyclones and looks to be the favorite to win by a touchdown or so, but Iowa State enters this game with a winning record of 2-1 and an offense that can create some issues for this Texas defense.
Led by Junior quarterback Jacob Park, the Cyclones have put up at least 40 points in each of their three games this season, including a 44-41 overtime loss against Iowa in their second game of the season.
The Cyclones offensive weapons include 6’5” senior wide receiver Allen Lazard, who most Longhorns fans are probably familiar with. He enters the game with a 19-178-3 stat line on the season.
And across from Lazard, Texas fans will likely be introduced to sophomore receiver Hakeem Butler. Standing at 6’6 himself, Butler is another tall receiver who currently boasts a 15-234-3 stat line.
At running back, 5’11’ 220-pound sophomore David Montgomery has rushed 56 times for 321 yards and four scores.
The Cyclones offense has weapons, can move the ball, and has also given up just one sack through three games. Texas will be tested.
A win against Iowa State Thursday night won’t garner anywhere close to the national attention a win over USC would have had. But a win on the road in Ames will be a good win for the Longhorns. It’s a win Herman and this team need in order prove progress is being made.