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IS TEXAS BACK? The updated tracker after the Longhorns beat Oklahoma

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A historical field guide to figuring out whether UT has returned.

Oklahoma v Texas Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Texas Longhorns have spent a decade in the football wilderness. For the last few years in particular, college football fans and media have wondered if the Horns were finally back — if, after so much struggling, they’d finally figured things out. Despite some teases here and there, the answer has consistently been: No.

After the No. 19 Horns beat No. 7 Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry on Saturday, 48-45, the outlook is again looking good. So someone asked Longhorns head coach Tom Herman the only question worth asking at a time such as this: Is Texas back?

The coach responded:

“I’ve got to tread lightly on this one, Dennis. It’s irrelevant to us is the best way to put it.

“We’re not so concerned about where people think Texas is. We’re concerned about where we… the players in that locker room… the people in that locker room, the coaches and players, are the people whose opinions matter the most to us. And, like any family, those are the people we have to answer to on a daily basis with our work ethic, and with out determination, and with our sacrifice. And so, it would be foolish for me to not understand the big picture. We’ve taken some really big steps here the last few weeks.

“I’m not going to deny that, I’m not going to downplay that for these players. They have taken some very important steps in this program’s development and its progress. We’re going to worry about the opinions of the people in that locker room first and foremost.”

Still, though: Is Texas back?

Please refer to the IS TEXAS BACK? tracker as you try to figure out if the Longhorns are, in fact, back.

For brevity’s sake, let’s keep our frame of reference to the last three years, (though if you wanted to carry out this exercise all the way back to the 2009 BCS Championship, you absolutely could).

2016, Week 1: Texas 50, No. 10 Notre Dame 47 (OT)

TEXAS IS BACK heat index: 10
Was Texas actually back? No.

(ESPN play-by-play man Joe Tessitore’s declaration that TEXAS IS BACK, right at the buzzer there, was the origin for the TEXAS IS BACK phrase we’re still enjoying to this day.)

It turned out to be the most overreacted-to Week 1 game of this century, comfortably. The Longhorns jumped to No. 11 in the polls but went on to miss a bowl, while preseason No. 10 Notre Dame finished the year 4-8. The Longhorns were not back to anything other than mediocrity, and Charlie Strong got fired three months after his signature win.

2017 preseason AP Poll release: Texas ranked No. 23

TEXAS IS BACK heat index: 5
Was Texas actually back? No. Texas lost to Maryland in Week 1.

2018 preseason AP Poll release: Texas ranked No. 23

TEXAS IS BACK heat index: 4
Was Texas actually back? No. Texas lost to Maryland in Week 1.

2018, Week 3: Texas beats No. 22 USC, 37-14

TEXAS IS BACK heat index: 5
Was Texas actually back? No. USC isn’t much good this year. The Trojans were starting a true freshman QB. But Texas did look great, to its credit. The defense — stingy for most of 2018 — was good, and the offense looked better than it normally had with Sam Ehlinger at quarterback.

2018, Week 4: Texas beats No. 17 TCU, 31-16

TEXAS IS BACK heat index: 6
Was Texas actually back? Not definitively. TCU had just given Ohio State a decent run for its money a week before that. Still, the Horned Frogs were not necessarily much good.

2018, Week 5: No. 18 Texas beats Kansas State, 19-14

TEXAS IS BACK heat index: 7
Was Texas actually back? Perhaps. This might not seem like anything, but they never beat Kansas State.

Saturday: No. 19 Texas beats No. 7 Oklahoma, 48-45

TEXAS IS BACK heat index: 11
Was Texas actually back? It’s possible.

And so we’ve come to the present. The Longhorns really might be back this time. Of course, that’s not a unique thought, but these two points are the best evidence:

  • Oklahoma is a more impressive win than anything Texas has pulled off during this three-year stretch of jokes about the Longhorns being BACK. Notre Dame seemed like a marquee win at the time, but the Irish turned out to be really bad. Oklahoma may or may not turn out to be a College Football Playoff team again, but the Sooners are still pretty likely to at least be a 10-win team. Their offense is college football’s gold standard, and Texas managed to outlast it on the biggest stage of both teams’ seasons.
  • Texas clearly has a QB now. The Longhorns haven’t had a firm answer at the position since Colt McCoy, but Sam Ehlinger looks like he’s it. He’s one of the best dual-threat QBs in the sport at the moment, and he flashed his full array of skills against an (admittedly bad) Oklahoma defense: 300-plus passing yards, two passing TDs, three rushing TDs.

A few other arguments for Texas being BACK aren’t much different than they’ve been in the past, but they still should hold up, even though they should have before.

The biggest is that UT’s roster is one of the most talented in the country, the product of years of strong recruiting. The Horns have signed 55 percent blue-chip recruits over the last four classes, putting them squarely within the realm of championship-caliber recruiters.

Even in a world where Texas has been consistently down for a decade, there’s no insurmountable competition in the Big 12. Oklahoma’s been the closest thing, and Texas has now dealt with the Sooners. The Longhorns have an even-or-so chance to beat everyone they’ll play for the rest of the conference season. No (more) huge upsets are required.

It also helps that Tom Herman’s the coach now. The guy who coordinated Ohio State’s offense to a national title with two backup QBs and made the AAC’s Houston into a legitimate Playoff contender has an encouraging track record. Herman seemed like a home-run hire when Texas landed him before 2017, and while home-run hires don’t always work out how they look, it’s always been more likely than not that this guy would figure it out.

This tracker will be updated as more information emerges to corroborate whether Texas is BACK.