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The SMO: What a turnaround this season has been

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Regardless of how the rest of this season plays out -- barring a potential loss to Kansas which I will, for the moment, pretend is impossible (I know this is an absurd assumption) -- I think we need to recognize just what a success this year has been.

Crazy to think after the opening loss to Maryland that we’d be sitting here -- the week of Thanksgiving -- with meaningful football still to be played.

Kudos to everyone who has made this turnaround possible.

It starts at the top. University of Texas president Greg Fenves deserves a ton of credit for recognizing the error of his predecessor’s ways and cutting ties with former athletics director Steve Patterson before it was too late.

Still, Fenves didn’t rush and hire just anyone. He waited for the right candidate to show up. And boy, did he knock it out of the park with his next permanent athletics director.

If you want to understand the impact of new Texas AD Chris Del Conte, just read a few of the emails I received about the atmosphere at DKR on Senior Night -- a game that, for too long, has been plagued with empty seats and embarrassing losses.


The atmosphere inside DKR last night was unlike any game I can recall. And I’ve been to a lot. There was an air of mass euphoria pretty much from start to finish. Gone were the tension and teeth-gnashing that have become so prevalent in that stadium over these last 9 years in the wilderness. I’m sure it had something to do with WVU losing and opening the door for us right before the game started, but people also just generally seem to love watching this team play. The team and CDC have clearly put so much work into making the football good again, and the crowd seemed to genuinely appreciate that. When they started blasting Journey and everyone sang along and raised their phone lights, it truly felt like we were all living out the words to that chorus. It was magical — almost dream-like, really.


The atmosphere at DKR last night was different. It wasn’t like Tulsa where it went from electric to holding your breath until the clock hits 0:00. It wasn’t like USC and TCU which were loud and stayed loud throughout. It wasn’t like Baylor where a good chunk of the students went to ACL and the heat took away from the game. It wasn’t like West Virginia where with 16 seconds left the crowd went speechless and the outlook of the game drastically changed. This was something else.

This was a crowd that knew the team dominated in all aspects of the game for all four quarters. This was a crowd that knew that this would be the last home game of a season where there was noticeable improvement from the team. This was a game where the tensions were eased and “having fun” became a priority in the stands. It was evident during “Don’t Stop Believing” with the light show. It was evident during a completely separate light show produced by the fans. It was evident when 100,000+ all sang “Livin’ on a Prayer” after the speakers cut the music and play on the field resumed. It was magical, and that’s something you couldn’t say about DKR for a while (I’m currently a sophomore here and have attended all the home games last season and this season).

Kevin (HopkinsHorn from way back when):

I’ve been attending games at DKR for over a quarter of a century now. Last night, for the first time, the ideal DKR experience of my imagination was matched by reality. A truly magical evening of 100,000 happy Texans having the time of their lives. The spontaneity and sheer joy of Don’t Stop Believing was something I never thought I could see there. (And the Living On A Prayer moment was pretty awesome as well!) And what was most amazing was that this all came together for a random November game for a good-but-not-great Texas game against Iowa State.


Thank you so much for the opportunity to describe last night’s game.

It was electric.

My and my buddy Dave arrived at the stadium right as the gates opened and we loved every minute of it. The band. The fans. The football team. It was something else. I haven’t seen DKR like that in several years.

I know it’s a meme to say that Texas is back, but I’m quite serious when I say that Texas might legitimately be back. It really feels like it. It feels authentic. It feels like Texas has finally righted the ship. And yeah, next year there will be some drop off in production because of talent we’re losing to graduation, but it feels like we’ve got real momentum in this program for the first time since 2009.


Here’s something that might be worth mentioning in an article y’all write about the fan atmosphere at this game.

I was part of the Longhorn Alumni Band at this game. Last night was one of the most special halftime experiences for the 700 participating members of the Longhorn Alumni Band and the 300+ members of the Longhorn Band. I started in LHB in 2008 and for the first time in as long as I can remember, the end of the show had the Longhorn Band come on the field WITHIN the Alumni Band formation, as opposed to in a separate block. We truly were one big band together, which meant a lot for Longhorn Band “legacies” like me (my Dad was in LHB in the 60s and 70s). Participation in LHB has been down the past few years, and it’s experiences like this (as well as an improved on-field product from the football team) that are going to bring it back!

LHB was also where I met my wife, and we both agreed yesterday that the halftime and the atmosphere in the stands were some of the most special we’d ever experienced at DKR. A great game for #500!!!

Del Conte’s positive impact deserves its own post.

We also have to thank Tom Herman for what he’s done with this team. When Charlie Strong left Austin, his final message for fans was “the cake is baked.” In retrospect, this could not have been further from the truth.

False assumptions about how quickly Texas could win left a sour taste for fans after Herman’s debut loss against Maryland in 2017. What we didn’t recognize -- and recognize now -- was just how far this team was from playing good football.

Herman has righted the ship. Most successful coaches see their first promising season at a new school in their second year. This year has been far more than promising. It has been an unabashed success.

What this staff will be able to sell this offseason to recruits will be more than speculation based on a name brand -- I am excited for what the last few weeks of recruiting will have in store for this team.

In week one, I called Herman a snake oil salesman. This is a mea culpa. Herman is the real deal.

I also have to thank Sam Ehlinger for bringing some moxie and attitude to the quarterback position in Austin for the first time in a very long time.

Ehlinger is the perfect quarterback for Texas. A kid who grew up loving the Longhorns and who understands how important Texas football is to so many Texans. If a kid has this background and can play power-five college football, go recruit him -- regardless of star-ranking.

He’s got a little of Baker Mayfield’s spark in him. Attitude like that spreads like wildfire across a football team. If Ehlinger knows he can win, so does everyone else. This turnaround isn’t possible without him. He’s going to be really special the next two years.

I’ve always loved Texas wide receivers. From Roy Williams to Limas Sweed, Jordan Shipley to Quan Cosby, the position has always produced the fan-favorites of my childhood.

Well, move over guys, because I don’t think I’ve ever been a fan of a Texas wide receiver like I have been one of Lil’Jordan Humphrey.

He’s the best wide receiver in college football. There is a lot of hyperbole in the SMO -- but this is unequivocal truth. No wide receiver impacts their team more than LJH. Leaving him off post-season award lists is asinine and says more about the award committee than it does about Humphrey.

Hopefully we get one more year of LJH, but even if we don’t, he’s earned a fan for life.

Congratulations to all 2018 Longhorn seniors. You have been part of something truly special -- the turning point for Texas football.

It’s no longer a national joke. It’s no longer in the gutter. It’s on the right path again -- thanks to all of you. When we look back at the turnaround of Texas football, that’ll have as much impact as any championship.

Now go beat Kansas (please God) and spoil OU’s season one more time.