This may sound absurd, but bear with me here — the season is not over for the Texas Longhorns.
It may certainly seem that way after yet another long offseason shrouded in seemingly unprecedented hype was followed by disappointment, this time right out of the gates. But as Tom Herman noted during his Monday press conference, simply beating Maryland was never the end goal.
"This is a process and we're in this thing for the long haul,” Herman said. “These nine months of training wasn't just to beat Maryland. This was to install and solidify a culture and a way of doing things and an attitudinal shift that I feel like we're on our way."
Admittedly, Herman thought his ‘Horns were further along than they showed on Saturday, but the 51-41 loss to the Terrapins proved to be yet another example of “We’re Texas” chest-thumping that leads to assuming teams like Maryland (and Kansas) are an easy victory.
All things considered, Maryland was a team that many — including myself — overlooked in favor of Texas’ hype, and unjustifiably so. The Terps finished the 2016 regular season campaign with six losses — three came against ranked competition, including No. 3 Michigan and No. 5 Ohio State, and while Penn State was unranked at the time of their meeting, the Nittany Lions ultimately entered the Rose Bowl ranked No. 5.
Maryland concluded its 2016 campaign with a 36-30 Quick Lane Bowl loss to Boston College so while the Terps clearly aren’t world-beaters, they’re the kind of team Texas still falls short against.
Doing just that on Saturday served as a glaring example of just how early in the rebuilding process Herman and his staff are in hopes of bringing Texas back to what it was nearly an entire decade ago. Until proven otherwise, expecting such success is unfounded and considerably premature.
Sure, Herman inherited a talented roster built around a pair of top-10 recruiting classes — one in which Charlie Strong insisted would win 10 games in 2017 — but in regards to on-field productivity, the new staff also adopted a very mediocre unit with deep-rooted issues; namely, a losing culture.
For all of the hype a team with ‘Texas’ across the front of its jersey will naturally receive, the team Herman now oversees is still one that lost 21 total games in three years under Strong and the road to resurgence is a long one.
Rome wasn’t build in a day and likewise, a championship-caliber football program gracing the Forty Acres won’t be built in the matter of one offseason, as Herman is well aware of.
"If we all that thought we were going to come in here in nine months, sprinkle some fairy dust on this team and think that we've arrived then we're wrong," Herman said following Saturday’s loss.
For as well-documented as Herman’s success at his various stops has been, expecting him to immediately become Texas football’s messiah was a bit far-fetched, although the ‘Horns certainly needed saving.
Bear in mind, as noted, Herman is faced with the colossal task of rebuilding a Texas program that lost 21 games in the last three seasons.
For perspective on just how poor things have been on the field, just consider the Big 12’s bottom-feeders: Only Kansas (31), Iowa State (28) and Texas Tech (21) have lost as many or more games than the Longhorns throughout this stretch, and each boast a victory over Texas since 2015.
Simply put, the current crop of Longhorns have lost more than a few games during their collegiate careers. The hope for Herman going forward, though, is that losses like the one he began his coaching career in Austin with don’t define the season.
"They've lost football games before in their life," Herman said of his players. "So have I. We've always had to get up and go play the next week. We kind of know how to do that. We understand and believe that one game is not going to define our season."
What Herman said is true. Texas will get up and play its next game, beginning with San Jose State on Saturday. Contrary to what some may believe, the Longhorns 2017 season didn’t end when the final whistle sounded during their season-opening loss to Maryland.
"Losses have one of two effects,” Herman said of his message to the team on Sunday. “They can bring you closer or they can splinter you apart and it's all about the choices you make on how you're going to take that loss.”
For reference, Herman noted Ohio State’s 35-21 home-opener loss to Virginia Tech in 2014 and how the Buckeyes used to loss to grow closer en route to a National Championship. Seven seasons prior to that, as Herman also noted, Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama began in 2007 with a 7-6 season, which included a 21-14 loss to UL Monroe. Nine seasons, 112 victories and four National Championships later, things seemed to have worked out well for Saban after a less than ideal debut to his time with the Tide.
More comparably, as Herman said, "Mack Brown started off 1-2 in his career here and wound up doing pretty good here at Texas."
"It [losing] happens when you're trying to build something," Herman added.
While the Maryland loss certainly isn’t ideal, nor was it expected, beginning 0-1 doesn’t change much in regards to the big picture Herman was brought on board to paint.
For the most part, the industry expectation for Herman’s debut season was a 9-3 or 8-4 effort; both of which are still possible. Despite the Maryland loss, Texas is still favored in six games, per ESPN’s FPI, and although the odds aren’t in the ‘Horns favor, Texas isn’t a lock to lose to each of its four ranked foes this season. That sounds obscene now, but the reality is Texas is still coached by a man who guided Houston to a 6-0 record over ranked competition. Such a résumé is why Herman was hired to help Texas become once again what Texas was back then, and Greg Fenves and Mike Perrin weren’t solely focused on the 2017 when making that decision.
"Those two men, my bosses, have complete confidence in us and the way that we're doing things here and a very, very clear understanding that this is a marathon and not a sprint,” Herman said.
"We want to win, but we also want to develop a championship program here that's built for the long run."