"I decide...I decide what it's like for me, not other people. You can be what you like to be, you just gotta choose it." - Ricky Williams, A Football Life
As the 2014 Texas Longhorns season wound down last December in a lifeless performance at the Texas Bowl in Houston, I just remember being struck by one emotion that made me angrier than any the dumb Bret Bielema picture or quote of the day.
The beat down was just too dreadful to watch, so I found myself tuning to the Longhorn Network and listening to the comic stylings of Kasey Studdard and the pained voice of Vince Young watching that debacle along with me, wondering where rock bottom might be.
The 2014 season was a long one for Texas fans, as a mid-season surge along with a couple of encouraging, close losses (Baylor and Oklahoma), gave hope that maybe, just maybe if TCU and Baylor both got into the College Football Playoff that the Longhorns could even aspire for the Cotton Bowl. Hell they might even haul off and beat #4 TCU.
Not so much.
So what hope is there for Texas fans that 2015 will be any different? The defense that kept them in most games was ravaged by graduation, and the offense, well unfortunately most of those guys return.
Simple. Trust the process. Charlie Strong has been here before.
Strong was hired by Louisville in December of 2009, and his first season was a struggle. The Cardinals went 3-4 in conference play and ended up in something called the Beef O'Brady's Bowl, which I am not entirely sure some prankster on Wikipedia didn't just make up.
The next year, Strong broke out and won what every Mack Brown-hater Longhorn fan desires, a conference championship.....with a 7-6 record, and they shared it with two other teams, but a conference championship!
That last game of the 2011 regular season, a non-descript game against South Florida in the sterile, NFL environment of Raymond James Stadium, saw something remarkable happen with Charlie Strong's squad - the depth chart consisted of eight true or redshirt freshmen, and another four sophomores. Strong knew his program wasn't going to get better by playing fourth and fifth year guys, he knew the young guys were the future.
Trusting the process, and trusting the young players built a foundation that produced a 23-3 record over the next two seasons and an astounding upset victory over Will Muschamp and the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl and led to 14 players being drafted to the NFL over the last two seasons.
You can already see the results taking root. Senior Johnathan Gray volunteered for the punt coverage team, when he has as much business being out there as you and I. By all accounts Tyrone Swoopes is a different man this Summer, taking command of the huddle and holding others accountable for their mistakes and directing traffic to where everyone needs to be. And the 2015 recruiting class, led by Malik Jefferson and Kris Boyd, among others, haven't been afraid to come into practice, shake the foundation and of the upperclassmen.
A senior class, mind you, that has never won 10 games in a single season before, a stat that Texas fans once took for granted not that long ago.
Will this Texas season end in Glendale, Arizona, or even in Arlington, Texas in early January? Hell no, and likely not. But the pieces are starting to fall in place, and perhaps more importantly, the mindset is forming to build that road back to the top of the mountain.
It doesn't matter what a local blogger or national pundit believes, if those in the locker room trust themselves, and trust the coaching staff that they're going to be in the right position every time, like Ricky says, you can be what you want to be.
On to the games...
Louisville vs. Auburn -10.5 (Atlanta):
Louisville had 10 players drafted to the NFL last Spring, so excuse them if they have a slow start to 2015. Former TCU transfer Devonte Fields arrives to help a defense that has enough talent to be among the nation's leaders once again.
The Cardinals might need that, as they have FOUR, yes four candidates for the quarterback spot, led by talented sophomore Reggie Bonnafon but also joined in the ring by Will Gardner, Kyle Bolin and true freshman Lamar Jackson.
Auburn has their quarterback, junior Jeremy Johnson, a 6'6" giant with a monster arm that passed for 241 yards in the first half against Arkansas when Nick Marshall was suspended.
The Cardinals will be dangerous again this season, but this game might be a little too early for them.
Auburn 28 Louisville 21
ATS - Louisville
SU - Auburn
Arizona State vs. Texas A&M -3 (Houston):
Mike Bercovici finally enters a season as a starter, as the redshirt senior has sat behind three-year starter Taylor Kelly. However Bercovici has seen plenty of action, throwing for 1,445 yards and 12 touchdowns while starting three games in 2014.
The Sun Devils enter 2015 with a lot of hype, with ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit even going as far as saying they'll go to the College Football Playoff (take that with a grain of salt, however as Herbstreit continued his annual love affair with Oklahoma).
Meanwhile the Aggies open the season with Kyle Allen under center, who went 3-2 as a starter last season. Allen gets the honor of needing to be perfect in order to prevent the calls for true freshman Kyler Murray to take his job.
But this is a Kevin Sumlin team, so you know they'll score points, the question is can new defensive coordinator John Chavis improve upon a defense that finished 109th in the country in total defense last year. If they don't do that, they also won't improve on that 1-4 record against ranked opponents from a year ago.
Texas A&M 41 Arizona State 34
ATS - Texas A&M
SU - Texas A&M
Wisconsin vs. Alabama -11 (Arlington):
Wisconsin lost Melvin Gordon, three offensive linemen, their head coach to Oregon State of all places and get to open the season against a Nick Saban team that cherishes the chance to play against a team that takes their sweet time to run a play.
It all adds up to spell disaster for the Badgers, and they have to watch it on a 60-yard television above the field.
Alabama 31 Wisconsin 13
ATS - Alabama
SU - Alabama
Ohio State -12.5 @ Virginia Tech:
One of life's biggest mysteries, right up there with the great pyramids in Giza and whatever happened to the legend of Kenny Trill is how in the hell did Virginia Tech beat Ohio State by two touchdowns in Columbus last season?
The Hokies went on to such greatness as going 2-5 in mid-season against the likes of Pittsburgh and East Carolina and going to overtime tied at ZERO against Wake Forest, while Ohio State went on to win this little thing called the national championship.
The bad news for both teams is that Michael Brewer is back, who threw for two touchdowns in that game last year, but had 18 interceptions on the season. Ohio State will smell blood here.
Ohio State 38 Virginia Tech 17
ATS - Ohio State
SU - Ohio State
TCU -16.5 @ Minnesota:
Imagine what you guys would have done to me last year at this time if I told you that Trevone Boykin would enter this season as the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy?
Well he does, as TCU decided to wipe the bad listeria filled ice cream taste out of their mouth after not making the playoff by drubbing Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl 42-3 in a game where some were thinking the Horned Frogs might enter 2015 as the national favorite.
TCU returns 10 starters on an offense that finished second in the country in scoring, so they figure to be locked and loaded ready to go this year. The Horned Frogs went 10-1 against Power 5 opponents last year, while Minnesota only went 5-5, including 0-4 against ranked teams.
It is on the road, and it is on that always intimidating to a gambler Thursday night, but TCU is loaded...and I don't think Minnesota is going to be the team to expose them just yet.
TCU 48 Minnesota 21
ATS - TCU
SU - TCU
Texas @ Notre Dame -10:
What a program turning win this could be for Charlie Strong.
While Notre Dame has their issues, mainly with health and suspensions, talent is not a question, nor is experience, as the Golden Domers return 18 starters from a team that handled LSU in the Music City Bowl last season.
But not so fast...
First off all, let's not get too excited about bowl wins (everyone wave to Trevor Knight over there on the bench...Hi Trevor!). Second, while Malik Zaire was certainly impressive, it did come in Nashville in December and he's still only attempted 35 passes in his career.
The Irish lost five out of their last six to finish 2014, ugly losses that included the likes of Northwestern and giving up 248 points in those six games (41.33 ppg). If you expand that to the final 8 games, the Irish gave up 5.6 yards per play (insert Texas Bowl rushing total joke here).
The Irish have been ravaged by injury (DT Jarron Jones, 7.5 TFLs in 2014), and suspension/ineligibility (RB Greg Bryant), so while the ever present Notre Dame hype is there, there are certainly some holes in the armor.
But yes, they're good.
They're deep at wide receiver (William Fuller, Corey Robinson and Chris Brown each had more than 500 yards receiving last year), have some attractive pieces at running back (Tarean Folston 889 yards and six touchdowns last season), have some talent in the offensive line (tackle Ronnie Stanley only allowed one sack in 2014), and a defense that has some of that, too (linebacker Jaylon Smith could be a Top 10 pick in next April's NFL draft).
When it comes down to it, Texas has to have too many things go right to pull off the upset. Tyrone Swoopes must be drastically improved from the inconsistency that plagued him last season. Johnathan Gray must be the guy that he was down the stretch. This offensive line has to jell quickly. A receiver must step up in his first start or first game action period. And a defense that was ravaged by graduation must be just as good as they were last season, or perhaps even better, right out of the gate.
This might be a game Texas could win later in the season, but just not yet.
Notre Dame 27 Texas 14
ATS - Notre Dame
SU - Notre Dame
For entertainment purposes only. Save your money for Old Style beer.