Texas will be in every top 25 poll that exists on Tuesday.
That little number hasn't been beside the Longhorns' name since they lost to BYU as the No. 25 team in polls on Sept. 6, 2014. The little number means nothing in the big, complex picture of Texas football, but it does mark a return to contention, and that's all that Charlie Strong needs in 2016.
Texas wasn't expected to win the Big 12, and trust me, no one saved a spot for the Longhorns in their projected College Football Playoff. But contention, standing eye-to-eye with the best in the sport, was something that Texas fans have been dying to experience once again.
College football's opening weekend peaked on Sunday night with the game of the year (so far) ending in double overtime with Tyrone Swoopes' outstretched arm crossing the goal line.
Swoopes, a veteran demoted to package player behind true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele, kept his composure and bowled through would-be Notre Dame tacklers on a three-touchdown evening that culminated with the winning score. The misdirection play from six yards out on second-and-goal was perfectly blocked by an offensive line still adjusting to Sterlin Gilbert's new offense, which draws from Baylor for its spread-and-smash concepts.
|Shane Buechele||16-for-26, 280 yards (10.8 YPA), 2 TDs 1 INT||5 carries, 33 yards 1 TD|
|Tyrone Swoopes||0-for-1, 0 yards||13 carries, 53 yards, 3 TDs|
Grading Texas' new-look offense
Since Texas won, it's going to be easy to overlook what Buechele admitted was a bad third quarter. In reality, it was a bad one-third of the game. Nearly 20 minutes of game time passed between Texas' third quarter field goal and the Longhorns' next first down. The ensuing offensive possessions for Texas went INT, PUNT, PUNT, PUNT while Notre Dame rolled off a couple of touchdowns and eliminated a 17-point deficit.
But the good ... oh boy was there a lot of good in Texas' debut. For one thing, the Texas offense is going to be fun as hell and extremely Texas. With a home-grown coordinator/playcaller and home-grown quarterback, the vertical passing game is becoming eye candy for college football fans.
John Burt was a big winner at wide receiver Saturday with six catches for 111 yards, but any good study of this offense knows the threat of the passing attack can mean big yards for the running backs. D'Onta Foreman picked up where he left off last year with a great performance (24 carries, 131 yards) that should become the standard for him in this offense.
Swoopes, meanwhile, will continue to drive the 18-Wheeler package and apparently be the emotional leader and a player that Strong and this staff can count on around the goal line in crunch time.
What it means for Charlie Strong
There was no magic win number for Strong to hit in order to snuff out questions about his security. What Strong needed to do was much less concrete and therefore much more flexible depending on your expectations. Strong didn't need a certain number of wins as much as he needed a certain amount of the right wins, and Saturday night's stunner over Notre Dame absolutely counts as one of them.
"It's so big for us, and the way that we won it," Strong told ESPN among a mob of players celebrating on the field. "One game doesn't make a season but we have a lot more ball and we're going to enjoy this."
When dad comes home with Pizza Rolls pic.twitter.com/rAHXifqcjw— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 5, 2016
remember when ppl said charlie would lose the team because he enforced a rule or two? pic.twitter.com/WHbQuxFvj1— El Flaco (@bomani_jones) September 5, 2016
Strong put a lot of faith in Gilbert and this new offense, and he made the gutsy decision to start a true freshman in a season opener against Notre Dame. The decision has paid off already, and though there is a lot of ball left to play, there is a lot more excitement and less anxiety in Austin, Texas, about where this team is headed in year three with its head football coach.
What's next for the Longhorns?
In recent years, the Red River Rivalry has been more of an opportunity for Texas to be a smudge on Oklahoma's resume; however, after the events of the weekend, the Texas State Fair will have an early Big 12 title feel.
First, Texas has to get through UTEP, Cal and its Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The Sooners, meanwhile, still have to play Ohio State and TCU (in Fort Worth, Texas) before the rivalry matchup.
Again, it may be early, but the way Texas played Saturday night suddenly puts the Big 12 title up in the air as a realistic ring for the Longhorns to grab. Whether they do it, well, that's another story altogether.