The last time the Texas Longhorns stepped foot inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium as a top 10 team, the year was 2010, so the game against the Baylor Bears on Saturday will represent a unique moment for a program that has struggled for most of the last decade.
The Bears are 4-2 coming off a victory against the Kansas State Wildcats last weekend and will bring a talented offense to Austin that includes quarterback Charlie Brewer and wide receivers Denzel Mims and Jalen Hurd.
We’re now halfway through the season and Texas is 5-1 with three ranked wins. Have your expectations changed at all from what they were entering the season?
Cody Daniel — Co-Editor: I predicted 9-3 to enter the season, but after Texas beat OU for a fifth straight win, I think we may be looking at a better team than most expected. While I think it’s far from a sure thing that Texas cruises to the end, I would be comfortable saying 10-2 is reasonable with Iowa State, Kansas, and Baylor each still to come.
Corey Elliot — Contributor: I predicted 10-2 at the beginning of the season. I got a ton of hate in my mentions over it, but I’ll stick by it. If anything, this recent play has made me feel confident in my 10-2 prediction. It still stings to think of the fact this team would be 6-0 if not for the Maryland nightmare.
Kameron McAfee — Contributor: Before the season, I had a gut feeling that this would be a big year for the Longhorns. If you would have told me we’d be 5-1 at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised but definitely wouldn’t think that lone loss would have been to Maryland. Even with the high expectations I had, I would say their level of play since the Maryland loss has been way above even what I was hoping for.
Wes Crochet — Contributor: Considering I predicted an 8-4 season, uh ya, I’d say so, ha. This team has gelled stronger on offense and found a solid identity sooner than I would have expected at this point.
Abram Orlansky — Contributor: I’d say my hopes have changed, but maybe not my expectations. That may be overly pedantic, but before the season I didn’t even *hope* for 10 wins. This is sort of a magical place to be as a fan, because I entered the season with low expectations but the team is playing well, so I’m legitimately just enjoying the possibility of a hugely successful season but don’t think I’d be heartbroken if it doesn’t happen. So now I’m hoping for a 10-win regular season, a conference title, and a Sugar Bowl berth. But since I won’t be upset without those things, I can’t call them expectations.
After beating an OU team that may have been a bit overrated, Texas jumped 10 spots to No. 9. In your opinion, has Texas done enough to justify its place among the top 10?
Cody: I think the difficult part is simply imagining Texas in the top 10, where it hasn’t been since 2010. But Texas hasn’t lost since opening week, and that was on the road after a lengthy rain delay, so after five straight wins with three coming against ranked teams, which is tied for the most of any team, along with Notre Dame, I think it’s fair to say Texas has earned its top 10 ranking.
Corey: I think USC, TCU and OU were all overrated, but I think, for the most part, all are good teams. If Texas has to fight and claw to win, sure. But they manhandled USC and walked all over TCU. Then when you consider OU is probably a 10-2 caliber team, I think the ranking for Texas is absolutely justified.
Kameron: I was a little surprised to see that they jumped 10 spots, but they have definitely played like a top 10 team. It’s well deserved but they have to bring the level of play we have seen of late the rest of the season unless we want more of “Texas jumped way too high in the rankings once again and couldn’t live up to the hype.”
Wes: Landing at No. 9 does seem like a big jump from No. 19. Then again, I wouldn’t say any team behind Texas is clearly better, so number No. 9 it is.
Abram: Honestly? Rankings are comparative by nature. So there’s no inherent standard for what makes a “top 10” team. I do find it hard to believe there aren’t at least 10 teams that should beat Texas on a neutral field. As I write this I’m watching Texas’ other best win, TCU, struggle mightily at home against Tech. So no, I don’t think the resume necessarily justifies the ranking.
Despite the five consecutive wins, Texas still has plenty to improve upon. What next step would you like to see Texas take against Baylor?
Cody: After struggling to bury Tulsa after a 21-0 lead, and having the same struggles against Kansas State (19-0) and Oklahoma (45-24), I’d like to see Texas close on a much stronger note if it can take a commanding lead against Baylor. That, and I’d like to see the running game really get going against a poor Baylor rush defense.
Corey: I think the Maryland game and Tulsa game makes this game against Baylor feel like the payback game. They’ve done plenty (USC, TCU, OU) to prove they’re for real. However, for me, I want to see a beat down over a lesser opponent that really washes away the stain of Maryland and a Rocky game vs. Tulsa. This game needs to be a blowout, and I’ll finally be 100 percent convinced Texas is on its way to big things this season.
Kameron: I want to see a fast start and a strong finish. I don’t want to see Tom Herman and company come out looking flat and struggle out of the gate. I’ve said it before, go out there and leave no doubt who the better team is. Don’t even let them hang around.
Wes: Close better when it has a lead. It’s one thing to run the clock out, it’s another to shell up like a turtle. Finding that balance between running the clock out and still applying some pressure should be a goal. That and not starting drives with more delay of game penalties…
Abram: One thing the Longhorns haven’t done yet is to beat an on-paper overmatched opponent the way a good team should beat such an opponent. That’s what I’d like to see: a comfortable, multi-score victory with no doubt about the outcome at any time in the fourth quarter.
Baylor’s offense has found its stride lately and the running game is more respectable than it may get credit for. How can BU’s offense give Texas problems?
Cody: Baylor’s three primary running backs are each averaging five-plus yards per carry, so if they can find their footing, it will open up a dynamic passing attack that features two elite options in Denzel Mims and Jalen Hurd. Force Baylor to be one dimensional and everything should be fine.
Corey: Texas two big plays it gave up last Saturday, the Kyler bomb and the Kyler run, would be the one thing this defense has defend Saturday: the big play. I’m confident with this team against the run and the pass, but I need to see Texas have a game where it doesn’t give up a huge play like both of the aforementioned Kyler plays. Don’t give up big plays and they’ll be able to pull off the blowout I want to see.
Kameron: The ability to defend the pass is what I am most concerned about. However if you allow Baylor to find success on the ground, that will only open the passing game even more. I’m siding with Cody here and hope to see Todd Orlando find a way to keep Baylor one dimensional.
Wes: When the defense creeps up or bites on play-action, the Baylor offense has a couple receivers in Denzel Mims and Jalen Hurd that can hurt team on the outside and down the field. And the Bears have a quarterback that can make the throws as well.
Abram: I’m more worried about the aerial attack but as long as Kyler Murray isn’t out there, I feel ok about the defense right now. Baylor will score some, but they put up 33 against that putrid OU defense and I think Texas can hold them between 20 and 25.
On that note, Charlie Brewer has taken hold of the starting job, found his stride as well and presents a similar skill set to that of Sam Ehlinger. After outperforming Kyler Murray, does Ehlinger win the QB battle this weekend, too?
Cody: Ehlinger, even if for no other reason than that he’ll be going against a shaky Baylor defense, while Brewer will be dealing with Todd Orlando’s swarming, multiple-blitz scheme and a veteran secondary.
Corey: Yes. Sam had flashes of Colt last week against OU. That’s all I’m going to say about this.
Kameron: I’d be stupid to bet against Sam right now. I think he absolutely out performs Brewer on Saturday and I expect him to have great success against the Baylor D.
Wes: I’d say so. Ehlinger has the edge as a runner. And I’d also give Ehlinger the advantage with who he’s through to at the wide receiver position as well.
Abram: Yes, if for no other reason than that Texas’ offensive line will give Ehlinger more time and holes than the Baylor line will be able to give Brewer. I think the deciding factor in this one is likely to be the Texas O-Line controlling the Baylor D-Line and Sam will be one of the beneficiaries.
Between USC, TCU, and OU, Texas has faced some pretty elite wide receiver groups. If you were to rank them, where does Baylor’s Denzel Mims and Jalen Hurd stack up against the other duos Texas has seen?
Cody: I think OU’s is the best of the bunch, and TCU’s would probably look a lot better if Shawn Robinson could get going. I’d say Baylor’s WRs will be the third-best group Texas has seen this season.
Corey: I haven’t seen a WR duo top LJ and Collin. So, I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Collin Johnson and then everyone else.
Kameron: The OU group is probably the best we have seen so far this season and Texas was able to contain that passing attack fairly well. Out of those mentioned I would say Baylor is the third or fourth best and I don’t anticipate them causing a whole lot of problems.
Wes: I’d say Oklahoma’s and TCU’s top receivers have the speed advantage while Baylor’s top two receivers have size and physicality. Given that Texas’ top two DB’s, Boyd and Davis, have solid size and aren’t afraid to get physical, I’ll say that I’d probably take this week’s matchup over Oklahoma or TCU again. Ranking them outright is tough because they’re different types of receivers.
Abram: Ranking any of these units against each other is splitting hairs, but Mims and Hurd are certainly special. Personally I’d take Johnson and Humphrey over any of them. But, to answer the question: OU, USC, BU, TCU.
Prediction time: Does Texas make it six straight with a win over Baylor?
Cody: I think so, but I think it will be a bit closer than the Longhorns would like. Baylor’s offense has some firepower and if Texas can’t cruise on offense like it did last Saturday, it could get interesting late. Texas 38, Baylor 24.
Corey: Yes. I’ll take Texas 48 Baylor 17. And we will celebrate MY sixth straight correct prediction.
Kameron: I’ll take the good guys to win 42-28. Hook ‘Em.
Wes: Yes, and Texas covers the spread. 38-21, Texas.
Abram: Yes, but with less ease than I’d like.