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Will the Texas Longhorns gain bowl eligibility this season?
Injuries and suspensions have seriously damped the season outlook.
Three short weeks ago, optimistic Texas Longhorns fans weren't exactly crazy with predictions of a 9-3 or 8-4 regular season record for the Horns.
After injuries and suspensions have decimated the offense, taking down multiple starters including David Ash, the season outlook has now changed considerable.
The 1-2 start to the conference season means that the Horns will have to go 5-4 over the course of the conference season in order to become eligible for a bowl game.
A look through the remaining schedule puts into perspective just how difficult that may be to achieve.
At Kansas, September 27
The Jayhawks went into the hostile confines of Wallace Wade Stadium last weekend and walked out with a 41-3 crushing at the hands of the Blue Devils and true freshman running back Shaun Wilson, who broke a school record with his 245 yards and three touchdowns.
A 45.1% completion rate for dual-threat quarterback Montrell Cozart is sadly well above his completion percentage, all-purpose threat Tony Pierson was oddly absence from the game plan last week, and the defense is allowing big plays, including runs of 69 and 68 yards last week to Miller.
Still awaiting official word from head coach Charlie Weis on the precise "pile of crap"-ness of the current edition of Kansas football, but the early returns suggest that the Jayhawks are piled high and steaming.
Iowa State, October 18
Hanging tough against what should still be a solid Kansas State team in Ames two weeks ago suggests that there may be some competitive upside to a team that lost at home to North Dakota State in the opener. The Cyclones have already lost wide receiver Quenton Bundrage to a season-ending injury against the Bisons. Bundrage, of course, was the player who scored the record-long touchdown catch against the Horns last season.
Despite bringing on new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, the offense is still struggling while the defense gives up points without last season's leading tacklers linebacker Jeremiah George and defensive back Jacques Washington.
The only home loss for Texas against Iowa State came in 2010, the recent season that will likely end up most closely approximating the 2014 campaign in win-loss record. And that is a tale that is more than a little bit cautionary.
West Virginia, November 8
The second trip to Austin for the Mountaineers won't be nearly as high profile as the first. Picked to finish No. 8 in the conference, this game looked like a near lock for the Horns.
Then Dana Hologorsen and his 'Eers played the Crimson Tide tough to start the season, shutout Towson in conjunction with an offensive explosion, then squeezed past Maryland on the road.
Not exactly a prospective world-beater, West Virginia increasingly looks like it could be a difficult out with an explosive offense led by a healthy Clint Trickett, who is surely benefitting from the time he's spent in Holgorsen's offense. The defense still has room for improvement, but will the Horns be in a position to take advantage by early November?
TCU, November 27
The second edition of the new-formed Thanksgiving "rivalry" is still a tough call at this point since it's hard to tell how improved the TCU offense is with quarterback turned wide receiver turned quarterback Trevone Boykin behind center.
Wins over Samford and Minnesota were both convincing and the offense has been scoring at a high rate, putting up 48 in the opener and 30 against the Golden Gophers, while the defense has been typically stingy. On both sides of the ball, no individual efforts stand out as exceptional, so it's been a team effort for TCU, which won't be tested until an October 4 game against Oklahoma that should provide some perspective about the strength of this Horned Frogs team.
So far, S&P+ likes TCU as the No. 15 team nationally, but it's still early and those rankings haven't completely stabilized yet three weeks into the season.
At Texas Tech, November 1
Ah, a glorious post-Halloween trip to Lubbock.
Strange things happen on the South Plains at that time of year, especially at night, so drawing the Red Raiders in the afternoon could be a significant advantage for the Horns over a night game. The game time has not yet been announced.
The good news is that the Texas Tech run defense may be bad enough that a more experienced Texas offensive line could be able to create some holes against Matt Wallerstedt and his defense. Young players are stepping up for the offense to complement wide receivers Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez, especially at running back, where freshman Justin Stockton has been a big-play threat picking up nine yards per carry to help spark a Tech rushing attack that currently ranks No. 40 nationally in rush S&P.
At Kansas State, October 25
Winning in Manhattan hasn't been an easy task for the Horns since the start of Big 12 play -- Texas has only one there once, a narrow 17-14 escape courtesy of a late field goal by Dusty Mangum and a blocked field goal by defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs.
However, the Kansas State rush offense has struggled to replace departed running back John Hubert and the place-kicker was flat-out terrible against Auburn on Thursday night, so there are some weaknesses for this particular group of Wildcats. Quarterback Jake Waters is the leading rusher for a ground attack that managed only 40 yards on 30 carries against the Tigers.
At wide receiver, star Tyler Lockett hasn't been productive in two of the three games, even as Waters looks for him almost exclusively.
In Austin, the Horns might be good enough to beat the Wildcats, but grabbing a road win from Bill Snyder and company is a much more substantial challenge.
At Oklahoma State, November 15
In Phil Steele's experience chart, Oklahoma State came in at No. 128 in the country entering the season, having replaced starting quarterback Clint Chelf, leading receivers Tracy Moore and Josh Stewart, and seven of the top nine tacklers, including linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, cornerback Justin Gilbert, and safety Daytawion Lowe.
Despite the loss, the Pokes rank No. 12 in the early S&P+ rankings, in large part because head coach Mike Gundy's team was able to hang with Florida State in the opener before falling 37-31, then took care of business against Missouri State and a rough UTSA team that took Arizona down to the wire in the Alamodome in Week 2.
Entering the season, winning on the road in Stillwater was going to be difficult despite all the losses, but if Oklahoma State ends up being much better than expected even with starting quarterback JW Walsh out with an injury, the odds of Texas winning the game go down drastically.
*Defining these games as likely losses is probably underselling the possibility of the Horns coming out on the losing end of this game, but just roll with it.
Baylor, October 4
Winning against Baylor in Austin used to be a given and losing to the Bears at home enough to imperil or end the career of Texas head football coaches. My how the times have changed.
The reigning Big 12 champs will head down I-35 in hopes of repeating the 2010 victory. Once again, there's a Heisman contender at quarterback for the Bears in Bryce Petty, a deep and healing wide receiver corps, and an improved defense.
Based on what the Horns have done offensively in the last several games, avoiding another blowout like the one administered by the Cougars would probably be an accomplishment.
Oklahoma, October 11
In recent history, there haven't been many Texas upsets of favored Oklahoma teams in the Cotton Bowl. Except for last season, when quarterback Case McCoy executed one of his last miracles and the Horns offensive line and running backs dominated the Sooner front seven.
While the odds of sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes delivering a similar memorable performance have increased since he started his first college game, the offensive line this year is light years behind last year's version and the Oklahoma team not only improved, but still likely stinging from last season's inexplicable loss.
The defense has been very good and the offense has been excellent so far, as quarterback Trevor Knight has reduced the inconsistency that plagued him last season.
Losing one of the two games against Kansas or Iowa State would likely sink Texas with the rest of the schedule, but reaching six wins will require winning those games and either all three of the toss-up games or be forced to win one of the difficult match-ups or likely losses. Getting more than one game out of those latter two groups isn't likely, so the Horns will have to take care of business in the games in which they have a significant chance of winning.
Right now, the ESPN Football Power Index projects 5.6 to 6.4 wins for the Horns, putting them right on the edge of bowl eligibility, currently slotting five teams ahead of Texas -- Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State, TCU, and West Virginia.
In 2010, the team was such a disaster that observers wondered if the group was better off to finish with less than six wins and then just disperse and start over again in the spring. There are enough senior starters on the team to slightly reduce the benefits of 15 extra practice days, completely outweighed by the need for Strong and his staff to spend as much time around the young players as possible.
As the BYU game put into stark light, Strong's efforts at culture change are far from completely. Reaching six wins to extend the season would help the outlook for the 2015 season just because of the extra work and ability to play another game.
Plus, having been through a 5-7 season, it's not much fun.
How will David Ash be remembered?
The retired Texas quarterback was a polarizing figure during his four years with the team.
Former Texas quarterback David Ash was placed in a tough position when he chose the Texas Longhorns in February of 2010.
For almost all of his career, Ash was incredibly underrated. As a quarterback who was preceded by Garrett Gilbert, Colt McCoy and Vince Young, expectations were placed unfairly high for the former Belton High star. Paired with Connor Wood, who transferred to Colorado in 2012, and Case McCoy, Ash outperformed both to earn the right to play as a true freshman when Garrett Gilbert was benched.
Ash was a Longhorn. His reserved, quiet personality with the media was overshadowed by his attention-fueled counterpart in College Station. Here is a quote that Ash gave when he committed to Texas:
I had already decided if they offered, I'd accept. When we starting talking, they offered a scholarship and I accepted right then and there. Then I spent rest of day trying to make everyone else to commit.
He was more than a serviceable quarterback. In fact, he was probably on the outer barrier of being elite. Unfortunately, being plagued with concussions is basically a life-threatening injury, and new coach Charlie Strong rightly cut his career short.
How will Ash be remembered? He became a polarizing figure for Texas fans in his career as a starter, with some wanting to see other quarterbacks get playing time and others saying that Ash was on the cusp of greatness. He was never able to reach that threshold, but he did have some great plays while he was at Texas. Let's take a look at them: