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Charlie Strong still has time to save his job at Texas

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2016 was supposed to be about improvement and there’s still plenty of time for Charlie Strong to show just that.

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NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Texas Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

After Charlie Strong’s Texas Longhorns dropped the last two games courtesy of a defense that’s been torched for 99 points and 1,062 yards, the pitchfork mafia has resurfaced.

Texas was sitting pretty at 2-0 with a No. 11 ranking, but that euphoria is long gone and despite there still being eight games to play, as Strong noted during Monday’s media availability, talk of the Tom Herman sweepstakes and Strong’s future in Austin facing an inevitable dead end are in full swing.

To be fair, Strong’s tenure in Austin has been tainted by a revolving door of assistants and a less than ideal record in numerous scenarios.

Bearing in mind the expectations at Texas, it’s not a surprise that the 2-2 start and the above records have regenerated the rumor mill and has the Herman hopefuls dangling Strong as Cougar bait.

But let’s pump the brakes for now. Strong still has plenty of time to turn Texas’ season around and save his job as the ‘Horns head coach.

It’s quite possible Strong’s victory over Oklahoma last season — which prevented Texas from falling to 1-5 — is the only reason he wasn’t fired before leaving Dallas. History could repeat itself against a ranked Sooners squad on Saturday and a win would put the ‘Horns at 3-2 on the season and potentially back into the polls.

If the burnt orange faithful were told prior to the season that Texas would be at 3-2 and possibly ranked after the Red River Rivalry, most would consider that a significant improvement from 2015, which is what 2016 was supposed to be about — improvement.

Prior to the season, very few expected the Longhorns to top then-No. 10 Notre Dame in Austin and even fewer may have truly believed Texas could beat an Oklahoma team that began ranked No. 3 before losing to two squads with College Football Playoff hopes in Houston and Ohio State.

If Strong’s Longhorns steal one Saturday in a game that’s always a toss up, Strong’s hot seat gets a post-game bucket of ice water dumped on it. That outcome looks quite possible considering his defenses have performed exceptionally well in meetings with the Sooners, allowing only 291 yards and 16 points per game.

Sure, Texas would have beaten two teams it should have lost to and fell short in two games it should have won, but Strong’s team would still be on pace with preseason expectations. More importantly, if Texas beats Oklahoma Saturday, it likely means the defense played at a significantly improved level and the ‘Horns have some much-needed momentum heading into two should-win games against Iowa State and Kansas State.

Strong’s Longhorns could potentially welcome the Bears into Austin at 5-2, quite likely ranked, and by that point, surely having the defensive rotation solidified and the tackling issues improved upon.

From that point on, Texas will see stiff competition against the Baylor, Texas Tech, West Virginia, and TCU after the yearly gimme game against Kansas. But the Big 12 isn’t what it was last season, so the new-look ‘Horns offense should give them a chance to win each game.

If Texas can enter that stretch at 5-2 and win two of the four notable match ups, considering Kansas is essentially a near automatic victory, we’re looking at a 8-4 team headed to a bowl game.

Isn’t that exactly what people expected and wanted to see from Strong during his third season in Austin?

If the defense can improve even slightly going forward, 8-4 is still a fairly reasonable expectation and more than possible, even considering the 2-2 start.

If Strong can rally his team, reach 8-4 and secure a bowl game — win or lose — or even conclude the regular season at 7-5 with competitive losses, improved showings defensively and win a bowl game, along with what would likely be another elite recruiting class, it’s hard to envision Strong being shown the door.

Sure, the frustration of a 2-2 record after the overreaction-triggering 2-0 start is understandable, but as Strong said, “We still have plenty of games left.”

Preseason expectations are still realistically reachable. If either of these still possible scenarios came to fruition, would the decision makers at Texas still be “very close” to firing Strong at season’s end after he lived up to expectations?

Unlikely.

If we’re going to have the discussion of Strong’s job security, it’s worth waiting to see if he falls short of expectations during his third effort.