Obligatory reminder: The Sunday Morning Optimist does not deal in logic or reason. It does not care about facts or figures. It is an emotional overreaction to the preceding game.
As I sit here in the office on a bleak Chicago Monday morning — winter temperatures hit this week — exploring flights to Tulsa, Okla. for Oct. 27, I can’t help but think how much fun it is.
Texas football and fun in the same sentence. Imagine hearing that after the Maryland game last month.
Texas football is fun. It’s not great. It’s not bad, either. It’s doing everything possible it can to win games — facing different levels of late-game adversity each week and finding ways to snatch victory from the impending jaws of defeat.
After Maryland, I said Tom Herman was a snake oil salesman. Please let this column double as an apology note. Herman was right — this team is different. It’s physical. It’s bought-in. It’s disciplined. And, most importantly, it’s learned how to finish.
When you play 11 Power Five teams, you can afford a Maryland game. In fact, I can’t think of a better game to lose through the first seven.
There is no shortage of kudos to go around this week.
Shane Buechele stepped in after Sam Ehlinger went down on the first drive against a much-improved Baylor team and held his own for four quarters.
Buechele, who is probably going to end up coaching Texas one day, is the model back-up quarterback. In Herman’s own words, he’s never been around a better one. In his first outing of the season, Buechele completed 20-of-34 passes for 184 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Can’t ask for much more from a guy who hadn’t played a snap all season.
And when Texas stalled on offense, the defense stepped up and held Baylor to just seven second-half points. Any time AP style dictates I spell out the number of points Texas allowed, that’s a good defensive performance.
Perhaps the most important stat of the season so far is the turnover margin. Texas is currently plus-five on the season and plus-seven in conference play. It has only turned the ball over once (!!!) in Big 12 games — and that was an understandable interception from a backup quarterback.
I was prepping this column last week — if Ehlinger had another strong, turnover-free performance — to be an endorsement for him to enter the Heisman conversation. At 17 total touchdowns, two interceptions and wins over TCU, Southern Cal and Oklahoma, I’m not sure how you don’t at least mention him. Of course, the award belongs to that quarterback in Tuscaloosa — but a free trip to New York doesn’t hurt anybody, right?
Can you imagine Westlake High and Lake Travis High sending quarterbacks to the Heisman ceremony in back-to-back years? How every quarterback out of those schools doesn’t get a Texas offer each season is my one issue with Texas recruiting.
Herb Hand has fixed a broken offensive line. Meanwhile, the offense in Auburn he used to be partially responsible for is falling apart. I don’t think we can understate his value for this Texas team. He might end up being Herman’s most important hire.
I’ve said it before, but I’m not sure how a 17-year-old college football recruit can watch Texas football these past few weeks and not want to come to Austin. Look at what guys like Keontay Ingram, BJ Foster and Caden Sterns are doing one year out of high school. When Texas football is good, all eyes are on it. The entire state tunes in. The entire country is watching.
When I spoke with USA Today national college football columnist Dan Wolken last week, he said — for coaches with great success — it is usually spotted in year two. You usually know what you have after those first 24 games.
I’m spotting it.
The Horns aren’t blowing anyone out of the water statistically — but who cares? Texas is 6-1 and undefeated in conference play. I hesitate to say Texas is through the hardest part of the season, because I imagine every game being somewhat of a challenge — but I don’t see any games left on the schedule where Texas faces more talent than it has on its own roster.
Wins aren’t going to come easy. This isn’t a team that is ready to roll over teams week in and week out. That could come later. Right now, Texas has to play its best game every week to win. But it’s showing no signs of letting up.
Texas is entirely in charge of its own destiny. Can you see the Horns slipping up in the next few weeks? It’s totally possible. But I can also see Texas running the table. If it does that, we might have to rearrange some of our Christmas travel — won’t we?
And if that isn’t fun, I don’t know what is.