From one year to the next, a team's success is measured in very different ways. Depending on the level of expectation surrounding the team prior to the start of the season, the bar is set at different heights. At Texas, however, as we all know, the bar is set at one place.
After a 2-3 start, it's worthwhile to take a close look at the remaining schedule to start to piece together what a reasonable finish would be to the season, and where that bar really should be in terms of measuring "success" in a season that has all the hallmarks of being a long one.
Moral victories like the last minute garbage-time touchdown against Baylor to avoid the first home shutout since 1976 surely won't be some of the last victories remaining. Right? Surely not.
Here are the 7 remaining games, and reasonable outcomes:
Next Week: Oklahoma
After a 37-33 loss to the TCU Horned Frogs, the Oklahoma Sooners certainly look more beatable than a few weeks prior. Trevor Knight has been functional -- if somewhat turnover-prone -- in the early going for OU, while wideout Sterling Shepard and Austin-area true freshman RB Samaje Perine have led the way for the offense.
The Sooners' defense is giving up an average of 373.6 yards per game, and 20.6 points per game. In short, the defense is exploitable given the right conditions, as proven by TCU QB Trevone Boykin -- who showed massive improvement from last season -- but an early lead for Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl could be tough to overcome.
Reasonable Outcome: As always, the RRS is a toss-up to some degree. Talent advantage alone gives the Sooners an edge.
Two Weeks: Iowa State
On paper, the Longhorns shouldn't have much trouble with the struggling Cyclones, but the last few matchups have proved that paper doesn't matter much anymore in this series, especially last season's 31-30 squeaker in Ames. Iowa State has the 105th ranked offense in the country, averaging 22 points per game, and the 99th ranked defense in the country, giving up 33.8 points per game.
In short, the 2014 Cyclones have looked largely outmatched, especially in a 34-14 opening loss to North Dakota State and two consecutive defeats to Baylor and Oklahoma State.
If there's a game left on the schedule that Texas should win without over-analyzing, this is it.
October 25th: Kansas State in Manhattan
The Kansas State Wildcats are back in the mix. Again. Bill Snyder is working his usual, dark magic in Manhattan and the Wildcats are showing they belong in the conversation for teams competing for the Big 12 regular season championship. With only a 20-14 loss to defending national champion Auburn as a blemish, K-State should take home a victory against the Longhorns on October 25th.
Texas would need to match a high-octane Wildcats offense score for score in this one -- and somehow overcome the home-field advantage in the Little Apple -- to keep things interesting. Asking this particular offense to match scores, and asking the defense to take on what they had to against Baylor to keep things interesting, will more often than not be an equation for failure.
November 1st: Texas Tech in Lubbock
Kliff Kingsbury's Texas Tech Red Raiders are mass chaos. With three consecutive losses, including fresh off a 45-13 throttling at the hands of K-State, it's arguable the honeymoon is winding down in Lubbock. The Red Raiders welcome West Virginia and Kansas at home over the next two weeks, before traveling to Fort Worth to take on the TCU Horned Frogs the week before their tilt with Texas.
This is a likely 1-2 split for Tech -- don't see them beating West Virginia as plucky as they've been so far this season -- which would place Kingsbury's squad at 3-5 on November 1st. With their backs against the wall, Tech will be ready for the Texas visit to Lubbock.
A Tech team with their backs against the wall is a dangerous Tech team, as we've seen before, but this should be a victory for the Horns, assuming the level of improvement is what it should be by this point, overall.
November 8th: West Virginia
Currently at 3-2, Dana Hologorsen's West Virginia Mountaineers have looked solid, but hardly world-beaters. Their best performance, in fact, was in a 33-23 loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide in Week 1 when we caught a quick glimpse of how dangerous the 'Eers offense can be when Clint Trickett is at the top of his game.
Since, West Virginia easily dispatched Towson, pulled out a 3 point win over Maryland, lost by 12 to Oklahoma, and tossed aside Kansas this weekend by 20. Who knows really what team will arrive in Austin by November 8th? Assuming the Longhorns are hitting whatever stride their is to hit by mid-November -- which is reasonable -- and the defense plays to its potential, this should be a win.
November 15th: Oklahoma State in Stillwater
On November 15th, the Oklahoma State Cowboys will be fresh off a bye week which follows a tough three game stretch against TCU, West Virginia and Kansas State. With the week off, the Cowboys will be re-energized and could be in the mix for a Big 12 regular season title.
While Mike Gundy's team at first look doesn't seem as explosive as in years' past, they'll likely be too much for Texas to handle, especially at home.
November 27th: TCU
I'm not sold that the Trevone Boykin we saw against Oklahoma will be the Trevone Boykin we'll be seeing on all Saturdays going forward this fall. If I'm correct, and the Longhorns can manage to control the tempo in this late November matchup, there's a chance at salvaging a 6-6 season.
I'll be optimistic.
So there you have it. A .500 year in 2014 allows the Horns to slide sideways into a bowl game and prevents the backslide in recruiting foothold -- but barely -- that a losing season would surely cause.
Is 6-6 a moral victory? Does this team win 7-8 games? Is 6-6 too generous?
Let us know your thoughts.