Longhorns begin the season ranked #23 in Associated Press and Amway Coaches Preseason Polls.
Less than 9 months after former head coach Charlie Strong’s departure, the Longhorns find themselves ranked in the Top 25 of the Associated Press Preseason Poll – their first such ranking (#23) since the 2013 season. New head coach Tom Herman appears to be putting the pieces in place to right the ship in Austin, but success will ultimately be measured by wins and losses on Saturdays.
Is a preseason ranking in the Top 25 warranted?
Charlie Strong coached Texas through 3 losing seasons, losing 7 games in each of those seasons. And even though his efforts to change the program’s culture were considered successful, the football team didn’t perform on Saturdays. As a result the Longhorns found themselves looking for a new head coach.
Tom Herman coached Houston for 2 seasons and won at least 9 games each year, including a big win against Florida State in the Peach Bowl in 2015. Herman followed up that win by beating Oklahoma to start the 2016 season and dismantled Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville the following Saturday. In short, Herman proved to the Texas administration that he could win and was the man for the job in Austin.
But the Longhorns, ranked #2 all-time in games won by a collegiate football team, are desperate to turn things around. And with newly acquired head coach Tom Herman, heads are starting to turn towards Austin. Under Herman the program has renovated the locker room, weight room, and first floor of the Moncrief Athletic Complex to ensure that Texas has top-class facilities that can be used to grow and bring in new recruits.
But will Herman and the new facilities translate to wins on Saturday? That much can’t be determined, but Texas has received the benefit of the doubt in years past when it comes to rankings. A recent article written by Greg Guglielmo of FiveThirtyEight provided evidence that suggests the Longhorns get more love than most teams in the August preseason rankings. In fact, over the last 20 seasons, the Longhorns have averaged a preseason ranking of 13.4, but ending the season as high as their preseason ranking has proved difficult. Texas has maintained the same ranking it started with 10% of the time, while improving just 20%. The other 70% of the time the Longhorns have gone down in the rankings.
What does that translate to?
Over the past 20 seasons (3 under Charlie Strong, 16 under Mack Brown and 1 under John Mackovic), the Longhorns ended with the same ranking they started with in 2 seasons, had a better ranking than what they started with in 4 seasons, and had a worse ranking than what they started with the remaining 14 seasons.
This data suggests that since Texas is a traditional football powerhouse, and under (primarily) Mack Brown, his success on the recruiting trail allowed the Longhorns to achieve a high preseason ranking, only to not deliver the expectations that come with such a ranking.
That, compounded with Strong’s failures and the hype from new maverick head coach Tom Herman (who proved he can win), has allowed the hype to reach a fever pitch in Austin. But many Texas fans are weary, as FiveThirtyEight’s data suggests, that the Longhorns may not live up to the expectations of the rankings, fans, and boosters.
But this is a new era under Tom Herman. And for the first time in almost 5 years Texas is ranked in the preseason Associated Press poll at #23. And while fans may argue about the validity of such a ranking, the Longhorns are sitting pretty in August. But will it last? The data doesn’t suggest so, but at such a ranking the margin for error is slim, and even more so when the expectations are at a peak level for the new head coach.
Will this Texas team fall prey to the past and fail to live up to expectations? Or will they light a spark that proves this data wrong and turn a dormant powerhouse around? Only time will tell, but the Longhorns begin work on September 2nd when they host the Maryland Terrapins in Austin.