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The SMO: Beat USC and Maryland is a mulligan

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Texas Jamie Harms-USA TODAY Sports

The bad thing about playing 11 Power Five teams is that you don’t get to fluff the schedule with Austin Peay, Northwestern State, Charleston Southern, etc. for a few easy wins in tune-up games.

The good thing about playing 11 Power Five teams is that you can afford to drop one or two games and still be in a national title discussion.

Of course, Texas has no business being in that conversation. The Longhorns looked all sorts of awful on Saturday — but a win is a win. The Horns enter the week with a chance to beat an old rival from out west and walk into conference play 2-1.

Extremely Optimistic — The true freshmen

Stop me if you’ve already read this on every single Texas site, but the new guys look really good.

BJ Foster and Caden Sterns are shaping up to be some of the best defensive players on the team — you can look at this as a glass half-full/half-empty scenario considering the experience this unit returns. Both freshmen had interceptions against Tulsa. I won’t be surprised when Anthony Cook replaces Kobe Boyce. That’s potentially three true freshmen getting significant playing time in the secondary.

On the other side of the ball, true freshman running back Keontay Ingram has become the best option for Texas in the rushing game — scoring a touchdown Saturday and playing well in his limited time against Tulsa. Again — glass half-full — this is a good sign for the future. On the other hand, relying on so many young guys when this team was supposed to be full of experience is disconcerting.

Someone posed this question to me over the weekend: Would any of the five upperclassmen captains — Breckyn Hager, Elijah Rodriguez, Chris Nelson, Anthony Wheeler and Andrew Beck — be scholarship players at Alabama or Clemson?

The true freshmen stepping up isn’t only a blessing — it’s a necessity.

The unofficial SMO captains of Texas football: Tre Watson, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Caden Sterns, Sam Ehlinger and Keontay Ingram.

Optimistic - Offensive Line

Pretty crazy how this unit has turned it around enough to become a strength for this team. A competent offensive line goes a long way in college football — even when everything else around it isn’t working as it should.

USC will be the biggest test yet for this group. I’m hesitant to say the offensive line is good, but I’ll honestly take serviceable at this point.

Herb Hand deserves a lot of credit for making lemonade out of lemons (I guess coaching hires matter? Who knew!) He might be one of the only assistants retained if this season continues to trend south.

Optimistic - Game day atmosphere

I wasn’t there, but from everything I’ve read it sounds like Bevo Boulevard was a success.

That’s huge, because Texas fans are about as disappointing as Texas football when it comes to creating a raucous environment for opposing teams — just ask any coach who has played in the Frank Erwin Center.

Converting the student section into a first-come, first-serve general admission seating was an obvious solution to the pathetic student section showings of the last ten years. Major shout out to the student leaders and the current administration for finally doing something about it.

I am excited to see what this Saturday brings with a sold-out DKR.

Pessimistic - Everything else

While it seems like the off-the-field issues (tailgating, student seating, facilities) are trending in the right direction, the actual on-field project continues to be largely disappointing.

Texas is still very much the laughingstock of college football. Tulsa lost Saturday’s game as much as Texas won it. It’s sad to say, but Texas really needed Tulsa — a school that won two games last season — to make some late-game mistakes to salvage the victory.

I wasn’t able to watch much of it — because we still put college football games on a regional network that most out-of-state fans can’t access — while, at the same time, our friends in College Station took No. 2 Clemson down to the wire on a national broadcast after hosting ESPN’s College Gameday.

Texas A&M is officially a threat to Texas football. I’ve said it from the very beginning — if you gave me the option of a regional television network or membership in college football’s most exciting conference (Note: I did not say best), the option is pretty clear.

LHN was a severe miscalculation — even if it does bring in significant revenue for the school. Count me as one of the Longhorn fans who believes in the LHN Curse.

The USC game is the most important of Herman’s career. Win and Texas fans might forgive the atrocious start to the season. Lose and we officially enter chaos season.

Someone asked me this weekend if Herman has lost the fan-base already. I’m not sure he ever really won it over to begin with.

Potential outcomes and what they mean through the first half of the season

1-5: Herman is officially on the hot seat if his only win is a nail-biter against Tulsa at home.

1-5 means fundraising for that new South End Zone project just became the task of a lifetime. I can’t even imagine how chaotic it’ll be on the burnt orange internet if this happens — but it is totally within the realm of possibility.

2-4: If the only other win is Kansas State, that’s a problem. There is a lot of money tied up in Tom Herman — otherwise I’d say the hot-seat isn’t totally out of question depending on how embarrassing the four losses end up being.

CDC might have trouble raising the funds for the South End Zone project, but if Texas gets trampled in conference play, I bet he can raise the funds for the buy out.

3-3: Season is salvageable but disappointing. In this scenario, Texas likely has the opportunity to still win the conference. The season probably ends with an exciting (read: mind-numbing) Liberty Bowl against Tennessee.

4-2: Maybe the first two games were just a fluke. Maybe this team is good?

5-1: LOL, what even is a Terrapin anyway?

My most optimistic view in these scenarios is 4-2. I don’t think Texas beats Oklahoma, but Kansas State looked awful on Saturday against Miss. State and TCU didn’t look fantastic on the road against SMU. Both teams are beatable if Texas turns it around and plays like everyone thinks it can play.

3-3 seems most realistic, while 2-4 seems as plausible as 4-2. 1-5 isn’t even remotely out of the question — which is absurd.

This is not the start Texas fans wanted at all. Texas football has no choice but to turn it around — otherwise we might enter our most chaotic offseason yet.