When I was in fifth grade, my buddies and I challenged some rival classmates to the biggest tug of war contest the state of Indiana had ever seen.
Some called it the “tug of the century.” It was wild.
To this day, if you ever find yourself in Greenwood, Indiana, and you ask the locals about the great tug of war match of 1999, nobody will know what on earth you’re talking about.
But I remember that day, and I can still remember dragging those clowns across the line and through the mud. We didn’t receive a trophy. Our squad wasn’t given a title “nobody can ever take from us.”
Great success? It was a victory. We were the winners. Sure, I suppose.
That’s the funny thing about success. The measure of success is not some description in fine print; it’s written in bold and in all caps. There’s no mistaking it.
So you can understand why college football, with its College Football Playoff rankings, recruiting grades, media and coaches polls, watch lists and way-too-many bowl games, is a sport in which success is so incredibly difficult to quantify.
And if you happen to be a program that has made it to the mountaintop where confetti rains down as fireworks burst into the air and a cool graphic pops up on the television next to your school’s name that reads “National Champions,” you know how hard it can be to determine the difference between success and failure.
First, eliminate sub-.500 records. If your favorite college football team can’t even win more, or as many games as it has lost, in a 12-game season, forget about it. Your school sucks.
Understanding the difference between Indiana University finishing the season at 7-5 and heading to a bowl game and Texas finishing 6-6, barely bowl eligible, is the first important component of measuring success. Some schools just have different standards, and most fans of those schools and across the college football landscape understand as much.
Indiana playing in the Rice Krispies Playstation Space Mountain Bowl at 7-5 is a big deal.
Texas limping to the Texas Bowl at 6-6, for all intents and purposes, is absolutely atrocious.
And the reason the former is praised and the latter is God awful is based on the expectations bestowed upon each school because of, wait for it, recent and long-standing success.
There’s that word again. Let’s talk about success, baby. Let’s talk about UT. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things this team can be.
Ok. I’m done.
Anyway, here’s the deal that most Texas fans have to realize: when you’ve sat in a dirty diaper for so long, even changing into a wet diaper feels like a comfortable relief.
The Longhorns have been bad for way too long. The record speaks for itself. I’m not going to go pull it up for you. Use your internet on your phone that you’re reading this article on. Texas’ record from 2000-2009 vs. 2010-2017 speaks for itself. That’s why every Texas fan who was alive to see it unfold soaked every single drop of happiness out of the Longhorns’ six-game winning streak earlier this season. And, likewise, it’s the reason they’re slowly suffering through the agony of back-to-back close losses.
So, with Texas (6-3,4-2) sitting in the backseat of the Big 12 Mobile that’s headed to Dallas while West Virginia drives and Oklahoma rides shotgun, how do you measure the final three games of the Longhorns season?
Here’s the simple answer: win one more game and then the bowl game, the 2018 season is a success.
Here’s the complicated answer: win one of the final three games and then the bowl game, the 2018 season is a success.
Remember that note about sitting in a dirty diaper, and how even a wet diaper would feel like an upgrade? Or maybe the note about the win-loss record of the 2000s vs. the last seven seasons?
The Longhorns simply need to continue to ascend.
“But, Corey, they’ll lose players to the draft and this team wi-”
Nope. Don’t even go there. The quickest way to become the type of person who will never be able to measure success is by being the person who is always worried about what else could be accomplished, or what’s next?
This is about a football program that is covered in more brown muck than Andy Dufresne when he crawled through a river of, well, you’ve seen the movie.
And I’ve seen this movie, the one where Texas fans just can’t sit and enjoy the present progress. I know, it’s been tough. It’s been a rollercoaster, especially since Mack Brown retired.
But the fact of the matter is quite simple. Texas finished 7-6 last year after a win in the Texas Bowl. Getting to a bowl game at 8-4 this year is a successful season. This conclusion is easier realized when you stop thinking of Texas as the Texas “2005 National Champions and 2008 BCS computers snubbed and 2010 Rose Bowl Game National runners-up because Colt got hurt” Longhorns.
This Texas team has more in common with the recent years of misery than it does with the glory days of 10 and 13 years ago. It is absolutely fantastic that things could still work out for Texas to wind up playing in the Big 12 Championship game. It was awesome to see the Longhorns hang out in the AP Top 25’s top 10 for nearly four weeks. But this Texas team’s floor — its THIS-or-else — was never the Big 12 Championship game and a top 10 ranking at the end of the season. I realize the time spent in the top 10 and the current Big 12 conference standings skewed that for many, but the reality is that this Texas team is making fantastic progress for the future of the program with a few kinks to work out that are likely the reason the Longhorns have lost three games by a combined nine points.
The goal is to win out. Beat Texas Tech, run Iowa State out of DKR, and rag-doll Kansas. Finishing 9-3, with a win over OU under its belt, and possibly doing so with an extra game before their bowl game, would be a dream for the Longhorns.
Count it with me, folks. That makes the three-year picture of Texas’ regular season records 5-7 to 6-6 to 9-3 or 8-4 or 7-5. And that means Texas isn’t going backward. And that is what normal people who understand nothing happens overnight call, say it with me, success.
However you divide it up is on you. But if Texas wins just one more game and then its bowl game, the Longhorns will continue to be on an ascending trajectory.
Now, if the Longhorns lose the final three games of the season and then go on to get beat by Indiana in the K-Mart Sears Chapter 7 Bowl, well, by all means, start a riot.