Winning is hard.
Texas coach Tom Herman preaches it all the time. It takes a lot of hard work to consistently win in the Big 12.
It’s a fair point. Texas fans can be overly critical without understanding how talented a team has to be to beat two playoff contenders in the first six weeks of the season.
It’s why I wrote last week that Texas, despite losing to Oklahoma, was still showing legitimate signs of progress.
And then Texas played Kansas.
In what was quite possibly the most important kick of Cameron Dicker’s career — arguably more important than the Red River Showdown win last season — Texas avoided an unmitigated disaster.
It would have been a loss that called everything into question.
So it’s time to lay out a few expectations that seem fair.
Here are seven acceptable and unacceptable realities for Texas football in 2019.
Acceptable: Losses against likely playoff contenders LSU and Oklahoma.
Yeah, it stings, but Texas still isn’t at an elite level like LSU and Oklahoma.
Losing to playoff-caliber opponents in a year when the Sugar Bowl is the likely ceiling is a totally fair outcome. As long as the game is respectable, fans should not be too upset over this.
Unacceptable: Requiring a game-winning field goal to beat Kansas.
This shouldn’t require an explanation. Texas needed 50 points to beat Kansas at home.
That will never be acceptable — not even with walk-ons playing in the secondary.
Acceptable: It’s acceptable for a young Texas secondary to struggle against the high-powered offenses in the Big 12.
The Big 12 is a hard enough conference to defend — add in an extra contest against the likely Heisman-winner Joe Burrow and the high-powered LSU offense and it’s arguably unfair.
Texas will end up facing the best offenses in all of college football this year. Nobody should have expected a Thorpe Award winner this season.
Unacceptable: It’s unacceptable for Texas to be No. 126 out 130 teams in total passing defense.
“Guys that have been here for two and three years should be able to play man-to-man and quarters coverage,” Herman said at his press conference Monday.
When Kansas can have its way with you — KU quarterback Carter Stanley had season-highs in total passing yards and total touchdowns on Saturday — it’s an abject failure.
The Longhorns secondary — filled with raw five-star talent — couldn’t stop Kansas from driving down the field and punching in a two-point conversion to take the lead with less than a minute to play.
Something needs to change.
Acceptable: Injuries are going to happen and are part of the game.
Nobody expects all 22 starters to power through an entire season of college football. It’s why depth is so important.
Unacceptable: Injuries becoming an expectation.
The Texas weekly injury report almost hits the word limit on our publishing platform.
A post-season evaluation of strength and conditioning practices, nutrition and the physical nature of in-season practices should be conducted by Herman to see what changes he needs to make to avoid this in the future.
Something isn’t working.
Acceptable: Avoidable mistakes occasionally happening on special teams.
Texas has multiple freshman returning kicks and punts. There are going to be mistakes.
Unacceptable: Special teams becoming a serious liability.
It’s ironic that Texas can simultaneously have the best kicker in college football and have some of the worst special teams performances in recent memory.
Punt returns? Texas ranks dead last in the conference with negative return yards on the season. The next worst team — West Virginia — has at least 50 return yards.
Pair that with critical fumbles throughout the season and it’s no wonder Texas fans cringe every time the punt return unit runs onto the field.
The kickoff return unit looked clueless against Oklahoma — forcing the Texas offense to start drives backed up in its own end-zone.
It cost Texas an opportunity to score in a close game.
“The return game has not been good,” Herman said. “We’ve got to play more starters on special teams.”
Texas isn’t good enough to overcome special teams mistakes.
Acceptable: Allowing occasional sacks.
With a running quarterback who isn’t afraid to take a hit, the Texas sack stat-line is going to be slightly inflated. It’s the nature of having a tough competitor leading the offense.
Unacceptable: Ranking dead-last in the Big 12 in sacks allowed.
Texas has given up 22 sacks this season — only six other Power Five teams have given up more.
“It’s hard to put my finger on anything specifically,” Texas center Zack Shackelford said following the Oklahoma game, when Texas allowed nine sacks. “But I just know we have to get better and get back in the film room and learn from this.”
Offensive line coach Herb Hand is a fantastic recruiter and coach. Figuring it out sooner rather than later will be helpful — because without a high-performing Texas offense who knows how badly this season could go.