Dating back to the time Tom Herman and his staff first stepped foot on the Forty Acres, the Texas Longhorns have checked several boxes that remained blank prior to the 2017 campaign. While that process began as early November 2016 with an entirely new — and thus far, improved — culture cultivated from scratch, the results are becoming very real essentially each time Texas takes the field.
In 2017, the burnt orange nation aspired to see Texas take a step forward in the win column and remain competitive with the nation’s elite.
That season-long effort ended with the program’s first winning season since the Mack Brown era in 2013, and the first bowl victory since 2012.
The 2018 slate came accompanied with an entirely separate and more substantial set of expectations. Thus far, most would agree those expectations have been met, if not exceeded.
Knock off a nationally prominent program, such as USC, and secure that potential corner-turning, confidence-building win that eluded Texas in 2017?
Finally find a way to topple TCU, a Big 12 power that has overpowered Texas by a whopping 120 points throughout a four-year span from 2014-17?
Exorcise yet another purple demon and win on the road in Manhattan, Kansas, where Texas hasn’t left victorious since 2002?
“I’m 4-1 for the first time in my life here so I’m gonna enjoy this one!”— Alex Loeb (@SpanningTheLoeb) September 29, 2018
Compile the program’s first four-game winning streak since 2013, and along the way, beat two ranked opponents in two weeks for the first time since 2008?
Beat Oklahoma in a Red River Showdown that’s actually meaningful beyond mere rivalry bragging rights?
That’s a box that’s remained unmarked dating back to Colt McCoy’s time on campus, when the No. 3 Longhorns narrowly edged the No. 20 Sooners in 2009, 16-13.
On Saturday, though, that box, too, can be checked, and there’s good news to that end.
Even as Texas has remained largely irrelevant on the national landscape as of late, the Longhorns have proven that they can not only compete against, but beat Oklahoma. Texas has come out on top of two of the past five meetings between the two bitter rivals, and Oklahoma’s edge in its three wins was just five points on each occasion. All told, Oklahoma’s scoring edge over Texas dating back to 2013 is a mere five points, 135-130, which is fairly remarkable considering the Sooners have been the only ranked representative in each of the past five Red River Showdowns.
Texas is bringing a bit more to the Cotton Bowl this time around.
For the first time since 2012, the 4-1 Longhorns and 5-0 Sooners are each ranked, positioned at No. 19 and No. 7 in the AP Top 25, respectively, and arguably for the first time since 2009, the outcome actually carries legitimate Big 12 and national implications.
The stakes for next week's Red River Showdown: pic.twitter.com/Y5l9aWvxFC— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 30, 2018
“Texas is back, folks,” has effectively become an unending joke that’s uttered far too often, and it will continue to be spewed until, well, Texas actually is back, folks. Even after back-to-back ranked wins, a road win in Manhattan, and a four-game winning streak, the jury is still out as to whether or not the Longhorns are, at last, nearing the kind of national prominence. the program enjoyed so thoroughly throughout the 2000s.
Nearly an entire decade of mediocrity and sub-mediocrity that tend to have that type of influence.
But beating Oklahoma, a program widely regarded as a national powerhouse, and the Big 12’s biggest, baddest bully after winning each of the past three conference titles, would silence any remaining skeptics, and essentially solidify Texas’ place near the top of college football’s totem pole.
That box has been blank since Jan. 7, 2009 when the Colt McCoy-less Longhorns handed the reins to the Alabama Crimson Tide in a BSC National Championship loss.
This Texas team isn’t expected to end its season competing for the same national championship stakes, although talk of a Big 12 title would then be much more rooted in reality than it is entering the Red River Showdown.
With a win, a 5-1 Texas team hovering around the top 10 nationally would be boasting wins over the two powers that competed for last season’s Big 12 Championship, and its unblemished 3-0 record would sit atop the conference; likely tied with West Virginia, aside from a major upset against Kansas on Saturday.
That portion of Texas’ to do list is for another day, though, and checking yet another box with a big win in the Red River Showdown would go a long away towards ensuring that a Big 12 title in 2018 is even truly attainable.