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Now 6-1, Texas hasn’t been bowl eligible this early since 2009

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It’s been quite some time since the Horns could celebrate a bowl berth this early in the season, which marks a sign of where the program is headed under head coach Tom Herman.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

With a last-second 23-17 win over the Baylor Bears on Saturday evening, the Texas Longhorns secured their sixth consecutive win after slumping out of the gates and falling to Maryland in the season-opener.

Far more notable than the sheer six-game winning streak, though, is that the Longhorns are now celebrating their sixth win, which means a postseason is now assured, as Texas is bowl eligible for the second time in two seasons under Tom Herman.

Through seven games, this reality likely isn’t one many projected entering the 2018 slate, especially considering the general expectation was an 8-4 regular season finish.

Sure, narrowly bearing Baylor isn’t the most praiseworthy story, although Texas did add to its win total with starting gunslinger Sam Ehlinger sidelined for nearly the entire game with what has since been diagnosed as an AC sprain, but the bigger picture is the one worthy of praise as it pertains to the direction of the program.

“You know, I remember last year in the locker room in Morgantown, West Virginia and watching guys like [Poona] Ford and [Naashon] Hughes and those guys, dancing around like we’d won the Super Bowl saying, ‘We’re going bowling! We’re going bowling! We’re going bowling!’ And also thinking, ‘Oohh, we got some work to do,’” Herman said on Saturday evening. “But no, there was — I don’t think they even know in there. I don’t think that not going to a bowl game even crossed anybody’s mind when the season started.”

The last time the Longhorns were bowl eligible at this juncture in the season was in 2009. Of course, that campaign capped with Texas hoisting the Big 12 Championship trophy and competing for a national title.

Whether or not Texas will soon face those same fortunes remains to be seen, although doors are opening with No. 2 Georgia, No. 6 West Virginia, No. 7 Washington, and No. 8 Penn State each dropping games. But as far as the rest of Saturday night is concerned, which, as Herman often notes, is the only night Texas will enjoy this win before moving on to Oklahoma State, it’s worth reflecting on just how significant of an obstacle reaching bowl eligibility has proven to be for the program over the recent years, which is exactly why doing so in just seven games is such a substantial feat.

2017 — After sitting at 5-5, Texas secured a bowl berth towards the tail end of the regular season on Nov. 18 with a win over the Will Grier-less West Virginia Mountaineers. Texas then lost its regular-season finale against Texas Tech.

2016 — After climbing to 5-4 after back-to-back wins, Texas failed to reach bowl eligibility after dropping its final three regular season games, including a 24-21 road loss to Kansas.

2015 — After beating Kansas on Nov. 7 to reach 4-5 on the season, Texas had three games to get two wins for a postseason appearance. However, it dropped its next two outings against West Virginia and Texas Tech, so even the celebration of what became a 23-17 regular-season finale win over No. 12 Baylor was short-lived, as it signified the end of the Longhorns season.

2014 — On this date in 2014, Texas was 3-5. The Longhorns did go on to enjoy a bowl bid in Charlie Strong’s debut season, but that bowl bid wasn’t clinched until a Nov. 15 road win over Oklahoma State before the Horns dropped their regular-season finale.

2013 — In Mack Brown’s final season, Texas ripped off a six-game winning streak, just as it has now, but through seven games, the Longhorns were 5-2 and didn’t reach a bowl berth until Nov. 2 after topping Kansas. Five games and three losses later, Brown’s time at Texas had reached its end.

2012 — After cruising to a 4-0 start, the Longhorns dropped back-to-back games against top 15 teams in West Virginia and Oklahoma. Texas did get back to its winning ways, but didn’t reach bowl eligibility until an Oct. 27 win over Kansas.

2011 — Texas finished the regular season with only seven wins, but it reached bowl eligibility on Nov. 5 after dropping two games to No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 6 Oklahoma State in mid-October.

2010 — The post-Colt McCoy era got off to a fast start, but then quickly faltered as 3-0 soon became 4-6. After being Florida Atlantic, Texas had a chance to reach bowl eligibility with a win over Texas A&M to close the regular season, but lost 24-17.

Of course, the six Texas wins haven’t always been the easiest on the eyes, with victories over Tulsa, Kansas State, and Baylor coming by a combined 18 points. But nevertheless, the reality remains that due to those three wins, in addition to others over No. 22 USC, No. 17 TCU, and No. 7 Oklahoma, the Longhorns are now as successful at this point in the season as they have been at any point since 2009.

Furthermore, Texas is now the first Big 12 program to officially reach bowl eligibility this season, which also hasn’t been the case since 2009. The feat is yet another undeniable sign of progress and indicative of the direction the program is headed under Tom Herman.

Going forward, throughout what should prove to be a more manageable portion of the schedule, the talk surrounding Texas each time it takes the field will involve the Big 12 title, and yes, even College Football Playoff discussions will be had, which is a far cry from the stakes being a mere bowl berth much later in the season.

For all the value of historical perspective, senior linebacker Gary Johnson summed things up as well as anyone following the game.

“It’s go time,” Johnson said, according to Brian Davis. “It’s good to be bowl eligible, but I didn’t see a trophy out there that said we were Big 12 champions or bowl champions.”