A year ago, Texas fans were on the edge of their seats week after week as the season winded down, hoping the Longhorns could reach some sort of bowl game.
Last Saturday, they achieved bowl eligibility with a 23-17 win over Baylor — in mid-October.
Head coach Tom Herman’s tenure at Texas began with an incredibly rocky start last season, finishing with just six wins during the regular season, the same number this year’s Longhorn squad has reached through just seven games.
“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, oh, we got some work to do,” Herman said after the Baylor game.
Herman continued, “But no, 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.”
It’s certainly a heavy improvement for a program that hasn’t started this well through the first seven games since 2009. With a first-place spot in the Big 12 and a No. 7 ranking in the AP Top 25 Poll, this season’s Longhorn team could very well make a run at a conference championship and at least be in the discussion for the College Football Playoff.
Even with a great deal of success through the midway point of the season, Texas players have signaled that they aren’t getting complacent with the amount of wins they’ve achieved.
“It’s good to be bowl eligible, but I didn’t see a trophy given out there that said we were Big 12 champions or bowl champions,” linebacker Gary Johnson said after the win over Baylor. “So, it’s just one of those things that where you’ve just got to suck it in for a while and get ready for your next opponent because somebody else is coming in to try to beat you.”
Texas’ win streak looked to be in jeopardy late in the first quarter against Baylor as quarterback Sam Ehlinger exited the game with an AC sprain that sidelined him for the remainder of the game. Shane Buechele then entered to take his place, which was enough to lead the Longhorns into bowl eligibility.
According to Buechele, the most impressive aspect of this team, and one of its biggest differences compared to previous Texas teams, is the bond they’ve built.
“We’ve matured a lot, and we know what we can do,” Buechele said. “We never want to look to the future, but just being 6–1 with the opportunity to have a bye week going on … it’s a great feeling.”