Prior to Wednesday night, one would have to reminisce on the tail end of the Mack Brown era to remember what a winning season on the Forty Acres feels like.
Since that 8-5 finish in 2013 and the subsequent departure of Brown and arrival of Charlie Strong, the 2014, '15 and '16 seasons each brought forth seven-loss efforts and thus, sub-.500 seasons. The same fate was one first-year Texas Longhorns coach Tom Herman entered the Texas Bowl at risk of, as the depleted 'Horns owned a 6-6 record with a potent Missouri offense on the opposite sideline.
Four forced turnovers from Todd Orlando’s defense and a clock-milking fourth quarter drive that began when the outcome was still to be determined later and Texas topped Missouri, 33-16, to finish the season at 7-6.
At the conclusion of a 2017 campaign in which it seemed as if everything that could go wrong would go wrong — suspensions, injuries, critical turnovers negating last-second wins — Texas enters the offseason boasting something it hasn’t since Herman was still Ohio State’s offensive coordinator: A winning season.
“No. You can’t overstate it,” Herman said of the 'Horns owning a winning season during his postgame press conference. “It’s really important for these guys to call themselves a winner.”
"Again, it wasn't going to be life or death. We would have been just fine next year, but this was a big step forward," Herman added.
With its first bowl victory since the 2012 Alamo Bowl in hand, Texas can finally stroll into the offseason with momentum and confidence that things are actually headed in the right direction this time; that the seemingly endless hydration tests and burnt breakfasts were done with an end game in mind.
“It’s like you hit the light switch, and everything’s changed now,” Hager said following the Longhorns Texas Bowl win, per Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman. “It’s definitely up from here. I know I’ve said that before — but for real this time. This is a game-changer. This was big time.”
As the offseason arrives, soon too will a No. 3-ranked recruiting class and a lengthy to-do list for the Longhorns to chip away at throughout the next eight months. Unlike at this point last season, though, snapping a growing streak of losing seasons isn’t on that list.
Texas isn’t back, folks.
But for the first time in nearly a decade, there’s at least some tangible proof that the ‘Horns are on their way.