Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Bowl game for Texas would be a (modest) improvement

Posted November 6th, 2017

Story highlights
  • Tom Herman says a bowl game would have to be an improvement over last year's 5-7 season.
  • Herman selling a more physical team and buy-in from his players as examples of a better team than is reflected by its 4-5 record.
  • It's imperative that the Longhorns become one of the 78 FBS teams that will go bowling this season.

The question was straightforward.

The answer? Uh, not so much.

So, Tom Herman, if your struggling Texas Longhorns play well enough to qualify for a bowl game — and that’s no longer a given in these hard times — is that enough to consider your first season in Austin a success or is it already a huge disappointment?

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“Those are my only two options?” a bemused Herman asked with a smile. “Success or huge disappointment, huh?”

Well, I was trying to be nice.

I really meant success or disaster, which a 4-5 record falls under after the lopsided loss to TCU on Saturday. Texas’ third loss in the last four games, no matter how close the margins, have clearly earmarked this inaugural season for Herman as a borderline disaster if not out-and-out disaster. The offense is borderline unwatchable, with apologies to borderline. Now maybe if the Longhorns run the table and win a bowl game to finish 8-5, then we can talk improvement.

But Longhorn Nation doesn’t have a habit of celebrating invitations to minor bowls.

Privately, I got to believe Herman thinks this season is a disaster as well, but it serves no purpose for him to call out his team publicly.

Head Coach Tom Herman waits for the school song after the loss to TCU. (Jay Janner/American-Statesman)

This hasn’t looked like a good team except one very obvious side of the ball. And if Texas can’t get a bid to one of the 39 bowl games  — that’s 78 of the 130 FBS teams  — it still has a long, long way to go. Longer than Herman ever thought possible. “We’re 79! We’re 79!” doesn’t resonate quite like we’re No. 1.

Herman used a more simplistic definition.

“Anything better than the previous years has to be considered somewhat of a success. It’s called an improvement, right?” Herman said. “Anyone who has really looked under hood of this team and this program and know what we lost up front and at the tailback position … but the program has transformed, with what you see on the field, from an energy and physicality standpoint.”

I don’t disagree with that. They could have beaten USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Nor do I blame Herman for putting his spin on this season, but it should be pointed out, he didn’t wave a single red flag about this team in August. And he can point out the big losses of blockers like Connor Williams, Elijah Rodriguez and Andrew Beck, but the last two were hardly all-conference material, and Williams wasn’t even playing that well before he went down with a knee injury in the USC game.

Granted, D’Onta Foreman left along with his 2,000 yards rushing, but Herman did no complaining about his running back talent in the pre-season. That’s where Herman miscalculated in August.

He did get it right when Todd Orlando’s defense won all three intra-squad scrimmages, but Herman’s comparisons with Ohio State’s national championship line in 2014 were miscast. He hasn’t been lucky at quarterback with all the injuries, he’s waited too long to get ample playing time for freshmen Toneil Carter and Daniel Young, and he might have a rotation at wide receiver that’s too big.

Herman is selling culture, buy-in, the death of entitlement, gaudy lockers notwithstanding. But it hasn’t taken root enough to show tangible results.

It’s hard to sell improvement to a skeptical fan base or media. Well, marginal improvement. Very marginal, to this point, but other than the defense, much of any upgrade is invisible to the naked eye.

But, hey, the Cactus Bowl would be an upgrade over No Bowl. Herman’s right about that.

“The fact the kids are buying into that, and you see it every week on a consistent basis,” Herman said. “You see hard-playing guys who are really physical and intense. That in itself is a success. They have to continue to translate that success into success on the scoreboard.”

It’s a harsh, bottom-line business.

Oh, by the way, Texas plays Kansas on Saturday. Tickets still available.

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