After one of the worst weeks ever for the organization, the smoke is starting to clear for Coach Charlie Strong and the Texas Longhorns.
After dismissing six players over the course of 24 hours — including two players arrested for sexual assault charges — the Austin American-Statesman is now reporting that the team is allowing senior safety Josh Turner to return. After meeting with Strong on Wednesday, Turner will have to adhere to some strict rules in order to keep a roster spot when the season begins on August 30.
And the biggest boost to Longhorn morale came on July 31 with the release of the initial USA Today Amway Coaches Poll for the 2014 season. UT came in at No. 24 in the preseason rankings which polls the nation’s head college football coaches. While the Coaches Poll will have no bearing on rankings in this year’s inaugural College Football Playoff, it’s still a welcome vote of confidence from Strong’s peers.
A No. 24 spot is just another way of saying this team could theoretically be a dark horse for a conference championship — or they will just crash and burn.
But the team isn't out of the woods yet. Three of the opponents Texas will face this year are ranked in the top 10: Oklahoma at No. 3, UCLA at No. 7 and Baylor at No. 10. Along with Kansas State at No. 21, the poll confirms that Texas will be facing stiff competition while simultaneously finding its groove under a brand new coaching staff.
The No. 24 ranking sums up what is the current consensus for the new Texas team — nobody has a clue what’s going to happen. Preseason rankings are always tricky prognostications, but a No. 24 spot is just another way of saying this team could theoretically be a dark horse for a conference championship — or they will just crash and burn.
One of the main problems Texas will have going into the season is personnel. Texas lost backup running backs Joe Bergeron and Jalen Overstreet during last week’s dismissals, putting more pressure on starter Malcolm Brown to carry the team (and avoid injury).
Horns Digest reports that three other players, including junior receiver Daje Johnson, senior offensive tackle Desmond Harrison and junior offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle, are also facing the possibility of suspension for violating team rules if they slip up one more time. The potential loss of these three players would further gut the offense of seasoned linemen, and make life even more difficult for quarterback David Ash.
The biggest hope for Longhorn faithful lies with Strong’s proven track record of spinning gold out of straw. During his tenure at Louisville, Strong found a way to field competitive football teams at a school where basketball was king. He took a team that was 4-8 before he started to 7-6 in his first season. Just two seasons later, Louisville upset Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.
His impressive track record through four seasons at Louisville likely clinched his job as the Longhorns' new head coach, but it’s unlikely a turnaround will come as quickly at Texas. As the Coaches Poll reflects, he’s now playing in a much tougher conference, and losing valuable starters and backups won’t help secure a bowl game, much less the playoffs.
Being ranked No. 24 by coaches is a confidence booster for fans, but it can also be a bit of a tease, hyping them up with too many grand expectations. Instead, fans and analysts just need to be willing to admit that in regards to the 2014 Texas Longhorns football team, we’re all still pretty clueless.