Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, August 17, 2016 at 11:22 AM
The pressure is on Texas head coach Charlie Strong. The Longhorn head coach has been sub-.500 in each of his first two seasons with a combined record of 11-14. To say that won't cut it in Austin is the understatement of the century. Texas has gotten some love as a possible sleeper, as they gathered up players in the aftermath of the scandal at Baylor. But the market is still cool to the Longhorns - the Over/Under on wins is a modest 6.5 with the price a clean (-110) either way.
There's good reason to be cautious about Texas. The non-conference schedule includes Notre Dame again, along with a road trip to Cal. The defensive line has to be entirely replaced and there are three underclassmen expected to start on the offensive front. There's serious question marks at quarterback. And at the end of the day, to bet the Longhorns to win seven games is to bet on something that hasn't yet happened in the Strong era.
That's a compelling case to either take the Under or stay away entirely, but there's a more optimistic view that also needs to be aired. Let's start with the overall talent on hand. The entire Texas roster is comprised of recruiting classes that rank at least in the Top 20 nationally. Strong's two most recent classes each ranked in the Top 10.
In another era, having twelve projected starters that are freshman or sophomores would have been the death knell for a season. But not so anymore, where instant impact is the name of the game. And one of those instant impact players could be quarterback Shane Buechele, a 4-star recruit.
Buechele, or whomever gets the nod at quarterback, will be supported by a running game that ranked 17th in the country a year ago. And while the Texas defense was awful last season, this is an area that has historically been a Strong specialty - from his background as a coordinator to his final two seasons at Louisville (2012-13) where he won 23 games.
It's hard to imagine a coach with this pedigree having such poor defensive play two straight years. And one of the most notable games of last season came in October when a reeling Longhorn team, with rumors about Strong's future already starting to swirl, showed up in Dallas to upset Playoff-bound Oklahoma 24-17. The takeaway is that the coach's players were prepared to fight for him.
So can they fight their way to seven wins? Getting another win over OU will be pretty tough, as will the road trip to Oklahoma State. The home game with Notre Dame to open the season on the Sunday prior to Labor Day is intriguing, but you want to find seven wins without looking at this one.
Pencil in wins over UTEP, Iowa State and Kansas. You can be further hopeful of Texas beating West Virginia at home and the home game against Baylor looks much more winnable than it did a few months ago. That gets us to five wins, with road trips to Kansas State and Texas Tech still looming, along with a home date against TCU. Win two of those three and there's your seven. Win one and you can get a bowl bid at 6-6 for another chance at a seventh win. And all of this assumes losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame - if you think Texas can steal a win from this group, then their chances really look good.
We won't say that Texas Over 6.5 (-110) is the bet you have to rush out to make. But all things being equal, they look a bit more likely to be Over than Under. Their coach's future depends on at least that much.