AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas began the 2019 season right where Longhorns fans always expect them to be: ranked in the top 10 and ready for a run at the Big 12 title, maybe even the College Football Playoff.
But now that it’s mid-November, Texas is right back where it has usually been the last decade: saddled with four losses and the head coach facing questions about what went wrong.
Last week’s 23-21 loss at Iowa State sent Texas to its 10th consecutive season with at least four losses, a run of mediocrity unprecedented in program history. The Longhorns (6-4, 4-3) head into Saturday a matchup at No. 13 Baylor (9-1, 6-1) in what could have been a de facto playoff for a berth in the Big 12 title game.
“Their season has been eerily similar to ours,” Herman said Monday, “other than they’ve been able to win those close ones.”
But wins and losses are the point. And Baylor didn’t start the season as a favorite to win the Big 12. That was supposed to be Texas.
Both programs have third-year head coaches. Baylor was 1-11 under Matt Rhule in 2017 then qualified for a bowl game last season. The Bears started this season unranked before ripping off nine straight wins and are still in control of their own destiny for a spot in the Big 12 title game.
Herman’s first season in 2017 got Texas back to a bowl game after a two-year drought. Last season saw Texas return to the Big 12 title game and cap the year with an impressive Sugar Bowl win over Georgia.
That success set up expectations that Herman’s third season had the potential to be a special. It hasn’t gone that way.
Herman, who faced backlash over late-game play calling in the loss at Iowa State, acknowledged Monday that Texas fans are upset about what could have been. The Longhorns haven’t been relevant in the national championship picture since 2009.
“They have every right to be,” Herman said. “We have not played to our level of expectations. If you are a fan of us, you have similar expectations.”
Even some of Texas’ wins have been shaky. Texas needed a last-play field goal to beat Kansas at home. The Longhorns needed another game-winning kick to beat Kansas State after surrendering a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“I knew we had a difficult schedule. I knew we had a lot of inexperience defensively, especially when the rash of injuries hit early,” Herman said. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t overcome those things better.”
Texas lost to No. 1 LSU in the second game, but the Tigers were the only unfamiliar opponent on the schedule. The Longhorns got to avoid typically tough trips to Kansas State and Oklahoma State this season and got two wins at home, but lost at TCU and Iowa State.
The final two games on the schedule become a matter of pride, Herman said. And to start looking ahead to 2020.
“We’ve still got a bunch of seniors in that locker room who have bled, sweat and cried for the program,” Herman said. “We owe it to them to try to correct the mistakes that were made and do our best.”