Eight games into the Tom Herman era, it would be easy to take a simple glance at the surface and conclude that this is the same Texas Longhorns team it has been for an entire half-decade now.
Comparable to the final season of the Charlie Strong era, Texas sits at 4-4 through eight games, marking the fourth consecutive season that the ‘Horns failed to climb above .500 during that same duration.
Is that what Longhorns fans anticipated when Herman was hired as the future of Texas football?
In short; not exactly, but it’s relatively clear that this is not the same Texas program that’s been entrenched in mediocrity and sub-mediocrity for the previous handful of seasons.
Herman would be the first to admit moral victories don’t earn bowl bids, but there’s plenty of that to go around, in any case. Since dropping the opening game to Maryland, Texas is 4-3 with its losses coming at the hands of then-No. 4 USC, then-No. 12 Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown and then-No. 10 Oklahoma State by a combined 11 points. USC and Oklahoma State each needed overtime to escape with a win and Oklahoma survived in the final seconds.
Not to mention, Texas gave three of college football’s premier programs all they wanted and then some behind the arm of a back up true freshman quarterback in Sam Ehlinger, who was forced to operate behind a depleted offensive line.
Sure, just 11 points and a handful of plays separate the Longhorns from a 6-1 record and quite likely a top-10 ranking, but of course, ‘what ifs’ don’t win football games. But the way Texas has fared while navigating what could be argued as the most difficult five-game stretch of any Big 12 member — overcoming numerous injuries and in-game adversity, alike — provides plenty of evidence that this is a Texas team and program headed in the right direction. If progress was widely considered the end goal entering the season, the eye test certainly says that’s coming to fruition.
The proof is in the product on the field, and furthermore, the elite prospects buying into Herman and the future of Texas football.
Entering the final three-month stretch before National Signing Day, Herman’s first full class in Austin currently ranks No. 2 nationally and finishing as such would mark the Longhorns’ best recruiting haul since Mack Brown’s No. 2-ranked class in 2012. Following his first National Signing Day in Austin, in which Texas finished with a No. 25-ranked haul, Herman guaranteed top-10 classes going forward. That promise is well on its way to be fulfilled the very next class, and Herman acknowledged that winning Texas and the Houston area would be necessary for that to prove true.
After the Longhorns became one of the many schools to fall victim to the ‘Texodus’ in recent years, Herman and the ‘Horns are keeping the home-grown talent at home this cycle.
Of the top five players in the state, four are currently committed to Texas, with top-ranked Anthony Cook as the exception, and he’s considered a Texas lean. If the Longhorns staff can ultimately convince Cook to call Austin home, Texas will own pledges from the state’s top five players, seven of the top 10 and 10 of the top 20.
Texa A&M’s four top 20 commits currently stands as the second-closest effort among any program recruiting the fertile football soil in Texas.
Although Texas almost always boasts plenty of talent, the ‘Horns haven’t enjoyed quite the quality of talent that’s set to join a team already going toe-to-toe with the nation’s best on weekly basis.
Herman has said on multiple occasions, he and his staff were brought to Austin to turn a program around, not to sacrifice the marathon at the expense of winning the sprint.
As we’ve learned this season, Herman’s sentiments weren’t an exaggeration and a true turnaround takes time.
When the recruiting coincides with the increased confidence and capable talent already on campus and those set to join within the coming months, the future of Texas football won’t look anything like the Longhorns recent past.