If Charlie Strong’s seat were any hotter, his future as the Texas Longhorns head coach would completely melt away, much to the delight of those hopeful of Houston’s Tom Herman’s services. But despite Strong’s ‘Horns having dropped their last three after the 2-0 start, the third-year head coach still has time to save his job in Austin, but his margin for error is at an all-time low and the wins need to start coming in bulk.
Strong may be face-to-face with his final seven games as Texas’ head coach, but he can alter the current narrative and earn himself another season depending on how he closes the season.
Of the seven remaining games, which ones are must-wins for Strong and his Longhorns?
Iowa State Cyclones (1-5) – Home
Texas has seen its share of losing streaks under Strong, but the program is yet to lose four in a row since his arrival. Strong can’t find himself on the wrong side of history once again on Saturday and drop a fourth consecutive game, or the previous report that Texas wouldn’t fire Strong mid-season may no longer be valid.
To make matters worse, a loss to a 1-5 team—one that embarrassed Texas 23-0 in Ames last season—is one many within the program wouldn’t take lightly, even if Strong weren’t on the hot seat.
There’s still hope for Strong to save his job in Austin and his ‘Horns will finally be back at home after the miserable 0-3 stretch away from Darrell K. Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium. Strong needs to win nearly every game remaining at Texas and that begins with Iowa State on Saturday.
Kansas State Wildcats (3-2) – Away
Manhattan, Kansas is always a tough place to steal a win, and that will become an even taller task for Texas with Kansas State owning the Big 12’s top defense.
But Strong has to find a way to escape victorious.
Considering Strong’s current job security, losing to Kansas State and dropping his fourth game in five outings would be nearly as damning to his future in Austin as simply losing to Iowa State on Saturday. And at some point, sooner rather than later, Strong has to prove his team can win on the road and he’ll need to do just that against Kansas State to continue icing his hot seat.
No. 11 Baylor Bears (5-0) – Home
There was a point in time when then-No. 10 Notre Dame looked to be a defining victory for Strong at Texas, but the Fighting Irish are now 2-4 this season and the ‘Horns victory loses value with each Irish loss. That staple win over Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown fell just out of Texas’ grasp and when the Bears come to Austin at the end of October, they’ll almost surely be 6-0 and ranked within the top 10 in the country.
Here’s Strong’s chance to earn his statement victory over a rival in front of the home fans at DKR.
West Virginia could potentially drop three of its four meetings before heading to Austin and TCU hasn’t looked like its usual self this season, so beating a likely top 10 Baylor team in Austin could ultimately become a deciding factor for Strong’s future.
Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-2) – Away
Can lose, but must remain competitive
Regardless of the two remaining ranked games on Texas’ schedule the season and the daunting road meeting with Kansas State, it seems likely that Texas Tech in Lubbock will be the ‘Horns toughest remaining matchup. It doesn’t help that Texas will be on the road, where it has struggled this season, but the Red Raiders boast the nation’s No. 2 total offense (3,249 yards) and the No. 1 passing offense (2,720 yards).
That doesn’t bode well for a Texas secondary in shambles at the moment, and even with significant strides in the right direction, it seems likely that the Longhorns will need to survive a road shootout to win. Until Strong’s group can prove capable of doing just that away from Austin, it’s hard to believe they’ll reach such heights against one of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks.
If Strong can afford one more loss, Texas’ November 5 meeting with Texas Tech is seemingly the most understandable.
No. 20 West Virginia Mountaineers (4-0) – Home
If Texas is able to steal a win on the road against Texas Tech, the narrative around the ‘Horns meeting with West Virginia may change a bit, but for various reasons, this one looks to be a must-win for Strong. If the Longhorns can meet West Virginia riding high on a four-game win streak, and if the Mountaineers can continue their winning ways and be 7-0 and hovering around the top 10, Strong could possibly afford a loss here.
But as noted, there’s a few factors that make Texas winning here a near necessity.
For Strong, considering the final two regular season games will be against Kansas and a less-than-stellar TCU squad, he’ll need all the momentum he can gain to conclude the season and a win over a likely-ranked West Virginia team would help to that end. If Texas has another loss prior to this meeting, dropping one at home and reaching five losses on the season is in all likelihood one-too-many defeats to keep his job next season. Additionally, if Texas can manage to be 6-3 with four connective victories by this point, adding another statement victory to his resume before a nearly-given victory over Kansas and the season finale against TCU would seemingly have the majority back on his side.
Kansas Jayhawks (1-4) – Away
This one couldn’t be any clearer—Texas quite simply can’t lose to Kansas if Strong is to remain the head coach next season. If you think people are loudly calling for change now, a loss to Kansas for the first time since the Big 12 was formed and for the first time since 1938 would spur deafening discussions.
In all likelihood, Kansas will own a 1-9 record when Texas comes to Lawrence. Not only can the Strong’s ‘Horns not afford to lose to the Jayhawks, but anything less than a complete blowout would do more harm than good for the third-year coach, regardless of if Texas entered this game undefeated after the Red River Showdown.
TCU Horned Frogs (4-2) - Home
If Strong has any hopes of returning to Texas as the head coach in 2017, losing what could potentially be his last game at DKR would be the nail in his burnt orange coffin—he has to end the season on a positive note.
As is, nearly every one of his seven remaining games this season is a must-win and if Texas’ decision makers last evaluation opportunity is a loss, that won’t bode well for Strong with many eyes already turned towards Herman. And by this point, Strong will have been operating as the defensive play-caller for eight games and an offense led by a true freshman quarterback will have an entire season of experience under Sterlin Gilbert beneath its belt. Point being, in what will likely be Strong’s final opportunity to prove he’s the man for the job, at least for another season—a potential bowl game excluded—an offensive onslaught and the defense not getting torched like it has of late would go a long way to assuring folks are on Strong’s side entering the offseason.
Even if Texas won out prior to the TCU game, Strong needs to do everything he can to keep eyes on him and not wandering towards the looming Herman sweepstakes.
What better way to show the widely-craved progress than flipping the script on a TCU team that’s dominated Strong’s Longhorns the past two seasons, scoring 98 points to Texas’ 17?