The year is 2022 and the Texas Longhorns are once again what the Texas Longhorns were back then, having soared back to the heights of college football.
Tom Herman’s initial five-year contract in Austin has since expired and his sixth offseason on the Forty Acres comes accompanied by a lengthy and pricey contract extension after fulfilling his introductory press conference promise.
“The University of Texas is a place, a special place, that deservedly holds a seat among college football elite,” Herman said. “We will win championships.”
Considering the Charlie Strong era in which the Longhorns lost 20 games in three seasons, the word “championships” wasn’t exactly synonymous with Texas any longer, but that’s all changed again. The success Herman found as the nation’s fourth winningest head coach during his two-year tenure at Houston has been surpassed throughout his first half-decade in Austin and much like the 2000s, Texas is once again a national power.
How did this come to be following more than a half-decade of mediocrity and worse under Strong and the final years of the Mack Brown era?
Five big events helped precipitate and mark the rise.
Flash back to the multi-million dollar facilities renovation throughout Herman’s first year in Austin, a turning-point 2017 season, and a #RevolUTionary 2018 recruiting cycle that served as the cherry atop the cake Strong assured he baked on his way out the door.
Off the field, the Longhorns were once again the Joneses with top-notch facilities and on the field, Herman and his staff’s alignment and attention to detail led to a 10-win season to debut the Herman era following Texas’ first bowl victory since 2012.
With premier facilities on hand and at last, a winning product on the field, the talent-rich state of Texas saw recruits flock to Austin and the ‘Texodus’ of the mid 2010s hardly impacted the capital city as profoundly.
To put it succinctly, the crucial Houston dominoes fell, with BJ Foster, Leon O’Neal, Anthony Cook, and Jalen Green serving as the nucleus for the extension of DBU’s rebirth.
You didn’t really think that Brandon Jones Kris Boyd, and the Kraken would leave Texas without helping re-establish that, did you? That is in part what helped those dominoes to keep falling, after all.
In 2018, the ‘Horns came close to earning one of the four coveted playoff spots, losing out to the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship game in a hard-fought rematch of a triumphant October victory for Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
The double jeopardy of the 13th data point ruined the Texas season, a result rationalized by Oklahoma fans and commissioner Bob Bowlsby as worth it for the extra money it brought in. And the national attention it brought to the floundering conference.
The loss and subsequent heartbreak was reminiscent of the near-championship berth in 2008 that served as the prelude to McCoy’s undefeated senior season, motivated the team throughout the offseason.
Quarterback Shane Buechele lived at the football facilities all summer leading up to his own senior season, grinding through the oppressive Texas heat, though that was hardly a change for the noted football junkie. His legend in that regard had only grown since his historic freshman season.
The Longhorns didn’t exactly recreate the Junction Boys in the modern millenium — Herman’s nutrition, the support staff, and strength and conditioning program were far too sophisticated for that — but the team was forged with the toughest iron in the blast furnace of an historically-hot Texas summer.
By the time the air finally stirred again in the fall and the sunsets over DKR turned triumphantly burnt orange, there was no stopping Herman’s ‘Horns.
Buechele fulfilled even more of those Colt McCoy comparisons with a Heisman-contending season as history provided a fitting bookend to McCoy’s career in Austin.
In a rematch of the 2009 national championship game, Buechele sparked a budding rivalry with the other national juggernaut, Alabama, still helmed mightily by the ageless Nick Saban.
This time, there was no Marcell Dareus to spear Buechele — Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who had quickly quieted his past critics with Herman’s guiding hand, had ditched the speed option from the playbook earlier that year.
Instead, Herman and Beck seamlessly integrated 235-pound Sam Ehlinger with a Tim Tebow-like package with some improvements. The redshirt sophomore was known for pushing the pile and hitting opponents with trick plays and veer-style, play-action passes.
Even the Alabama cornerbacks couldn’t deal with beastly senior wide receiver Collin Johnson, who established a rapport with Ehlinger on those plays early equal to his longtime mind-meld with Buechele.
Johnson could have jumped to the NFL after the 2018 season as a top-10 pick. Instead, his connection to Buechele and the opportunity to win a national championship were too much to pass up.
So it went in the national championship game, as the aggressive Herman dialed up a fake punt and then called a play-action passing touchdown from the Westlake Express to Johnson in the game’s critical moment, while getting a tough Ehlinger run for another score.
Texas 32, Alabama 27.
Herman had out-coached Saban, as Texas secured the school’s fifth national championship, as well as the legacies of Herman, Ehlinger, and Buechele, who turned in a workmanlike, mistake-free performance.
Elite prospects that once sought a winning culture out of state now had one right at home. More so, as Herman began to establish during his first full recruiting cycle in Austin and built upon with immediate on-field results, Texas again serves as a nationally recognizable and respected brand and Herman’s staff is able to set up shop anywhere in the country and recruit successfully.
In turn, what the collective contributions of premier facilities, immediate on-field results and national recruiting success provides is quite resemblant to the Texas of which many still have faint memories.
Remember back when Texas was prominent, top-five recruiting classes were a regularity, as were NFL departures in bulk, and a single-digit number was almost always found next to the name ‘Texas’ on game days as a highly-ranked program?
For many, this brings Mack Brown’s Longhorns to mind and five years from now, the same will be said of the new-look Longhorns under Brown’s successor’s successor — Tom Herman.
The year is 2022 and Texas is once again what Texas was back then.
The Oklahoma Sooners no longer have a clear path to a Big 12 Championship and New Years Six bowls are becoming accustomed to including Texas, as they did so often under Brown.
While this is clearly a far cry from what Texas had become, as Herman reiterated upon taking the job in Austin, “this is still Texas,” and by the end of his first contract in Austin, that name will again hold weight at the college football powerhouse table.
Which of these five predictions is the most likely to happen?
This poll is closed
Texas has a turning-point 2017 season
The #ReolUTionary 2018 recruiting class comes together
The ‘Horns come close to earning a playoff bid in 2018
Tom Herman’s team wins the national championship in 2019.