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Texas Longhorns facing difficult path to bowl eligibility

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Is there any chance the Longhorns finish the season with three wins in the last four games?

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

After the non-conference season ended with the Texas Longhorns sitting at 1-2 following losses to the BYU Cougars and the UCLA Bruins, it became apparent that reaching bowl eligibility with six wins was going to be a difficult task.

With the team now sitting at 3-5 following a frustrating loss to the Kansas State Wildcats over the weekend, Texas would have to win three out of the final four games to secure the 15 extra practices afforded by a bowl game. To say that the task appears difficult at this time is probably an understatement.

Here's a look at the last four games and the odds of a Texas post-season as the Longhorns try to match their win total from the first eight games over the last four.

At Texas Tech, November 1

Classified as one of the "toss-up" games after the non-conference season, the recent struggles by the Red Raiders have this as a must-win game now sinceTexas Tech gave up 82 points against TCU last weekend and could be without starting quarterback Davis Webb after he left last weekend's game with an apparent ankle injury.

The defense is reeling after the resignation of defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt, with the unit currently ranking No. 102 nationally with opponents averaging nearly five yards per carry against them. The news against the pass isn't much better, as the Red Raiders are allowing opposing quarterbacks to put up a passer rating of 149.35 against them, which ranks No. 114 nationally.

For perspective, that number would be good enough to rank in the top 25 nationally.

Still, this is going to be a post-Halloween night game on the South Plains, ingredients for the perfect recipe of strangeness to occur to a team that has struggled to consistently execute even against the poor teams on the schedule.

Prediction: Texas comes out with a close victory.

West Virginia, November 8

The Mountaineers are one of the conference's biggest surprises after taking down the Bears two weeks ago, but this is a team that struggled on the road against the Terrapins and Red Raiders, so getting West Virginia in Austin could be worth several touchdowns for Texas.

The odd thing about this team, though, besides a better-than-expected record? The fact that the defense ranks higher than the offense in S&P+ -- the offense is No. 20 in the country and the defense is No. 19.

Those stats paint the picture of a balanced team and the overall S&P+ ranking of No. 18 is several spots higher than last week's opponent, Kansas State, which sits at No. 25.

Classified as a "toss-up" game after the non-conference season, this is increasingly looking like a difficult match up for Texas.

Prediction: Texas has opportunities, but fails to convert on enough to win.

At Oklahoma State, November 15

This is a Cowboys team that is sitting at 5-3, but hasn't played good football in either of the last two weeks in losing badly to TCU on the road and West Virginia at home.

Part of the problem is the play of quarterback Dax Garman following the foot injury suffered by JW Walsh. Garman has thrown two interceptions in four of the last five games and managed to complete only 40% of his passes against TCU.

The running game hasn't been good and now sits in the 90s nationally in S&P, the offensive line hasn't been protecting the quarterback in giving up 20 sacks, and the defense hasn't been creating turnovers.

This looks like a football team trending in the wrong direction.

Prediction: The Longhorns manage to create some more hope again with a victory to technically preserve the chances of bowl eligibility.

TCU, November 27

Classified as a "toss-up" game following the non-conference season, the rising Horned Frogs have overachieved compared to expectations with quarterback Trevone Boykin orchestrating the new Air Raid offense to perfection in a big win over Oklahoma and a close loss to Baylor.

The defense gave up some points to the Sooners and the Bears, but it's still a good unit coached by Gary Patterson and the dramatic and unexpected improvement by the offense has turned the Horned Frogs into the No. 10 team nationally in both polls.

Prediction: Texas hangs tough in the first half, but TCU pulls away in the second for a comfortable victory.

*****

In 2010, the last time that the Longhorns weren't bowl eligible, there was a prevalent opinion that the team was so dysfunctional it would be better off not spending the additional 15 bowl practices together -- it was simply time to clean house and move on.

This team is in a much different position -- the coaches need the extra time to work with young players at quarterback, along the offensive line, and in the secondary. The program needs some positive news after there has been so little of it in recent seasons. The team needs the opportunity to face a quality opponent and learn how to finish consistently.

The problem is, even with a win over Okahoma State on the road that would probably represent some of an upset, the odds of beating Texas Tech and West Virginia aren't that high and even the most optimistic of Texas fans aren't predicting a win against TCU.

So even in an relatively optimistic scenario that forecasts wins against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, Texas would still fall a game short of bowl eligibility.

Head coach Charlie Strong went back through all the missed opportunities for Texas this season, starting with the UCLA game, and those missed opportunities are likely going to continue to keep the Longhorns from winning games and will likely eventually keep the Longhorns out of a bowl game.

It's an unfortunate reality and an unpleasant reality, but it's the current reality forTexas football in 2014.