Often it is easy. Then there was this year.
Usually I have the theme of this opening column in my head by mid-Summer. Sometimes I have it by April. Sometimes even January.
But not this year.
2017 was one of those seasons that was hard to classify as a Texas fan. A 7-6 record should never get the champagne popping and the Pitbull blaring, but if we want to be technical, by mathematical measures it was an improvement upon the Charlie Strong years.
But then there was Maryland. There were games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State where if they had a modicum of offense, victory would have been had. And there was not being competitive with TCU.
So whenever I think about the 2018 season, which opens on Saturday at the house that little Daniel Snyder built, there has been one word that has reverberated around my brain over and over again.
Forget competing for championships or getting back to double digit wins. That should be the expectation around here. No, it has been far too long since the Longhorns have even been relevant.
Just be relevant.
We’re now entering the fifth year of the college football playoff, and the Texas Longhorns have never been ranked in that poll. Yeah. That silly poll that they release mid-season just to garner some attention and talking points, the Longhorns have never been successful enough to be ranked in that poll.
Therefore excuse me if when I hear talk about how much the quarterbacks have progressed, or how the offensive continuity, or all-time high team unity or how we can finally teach football this year (whatever that means), if I just tune it all out.
I’m sick of turning on the television and seeing Baker Mayfield and Gary Patterson and Lincoln Riley and Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney and Mike Gundy and Jim Harbaugh and Saquon Barkley and Auburn and oh yeah Texas saved Kliff Kingsbury’s job by somehow losing to Texas Tech at home.
Hell, Texas sometimes can’t even win games correctly, because their punter has to win it for them.
I know at this point it might sound like I have gone past the tumbler of whisky and gone straight to the bottle while watching Sarah McLachlan SPCA commercials, but man, I’m tired of the narrative.
And then win again.
Make Texas football interesting again.
Miami -3 vs. LSU (Arlington, TX)
The Miami Hurricanes soared as high as #2 in the AP Poll last season after back to back routs of Virginia Tech (as I watched helplessly in a Vegas sportsbook) and Notre Dame, but then then it was their opponents’ turn to wear the “turnover chain” as they turned over their season with three straight losses to finish 10-3.
Quarterback Malik Rosier returns, which may or may not be good news, depending on which version of him shows up this season, but more importantly the Hurricanes return their entire back seven on a defense that was already very good last season.
LSU lost to Troy early and then won 6 of 7 to finish the regular season, and if you have paid any attention to college football the last 20 years you can probably guess what kind of team that the Tigers are going to field – an unproven quarterback (Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow), some talent at the skill positions (Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles leads the receiving corps, and an outstanding defense.
This one should be awfully close. LSU should have the home-field advantage in Arlington – but Miami has an edge at head coach since Mark Richt likely won’t spend the evening chewing on glass.
Miami 24 LSU 17
ATS – MIAMI
SU – MIAMI
Michigan @ Notre Dame -1
Somehow this is only Jim Harbaugh’s fourth year in Ann Arbor, a year that sees them open against an old rival, Notre Dame. Harbaugh has been criticized for his record in rivalry games at Michigan, as he is only 1-5 against Ohio State and Michigan State. This would be a big win in a number of ways for him and the program.
Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson is the new signal caller for a Wolverine offense that finished 85th in the country last year in offensive S&P+. How much of an improvement is Patterson? He threw for more touchdowns last season than Michigan’s triumvirate at quarterback, despite missing the last five ballgames.
Notre Dame finished 11th in the country last season, a campaign that saw them lose a close one to national runner-up Georgia but also getting stomped by Stanford and Miami. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush returns for the Irish, but he’ll face a Michigan defense that only lost two starters and was amongst the nation’s best last season.
Notre Dame’s defense is no slouch, so this has the potential to be one of those defensive battles. In that case, give me the better defense and offense.
Michigan 21 Notre Dame 14
ATS – MICHIGAN
SU – MICHIGAN
Washington vs. Auburn -1.5 (Atlanta, GA)
One of the more perplexing contests last season was how Washington, a team that averaged 36 points per game last fall somehow only scored 7 in an October loss to Arizona State. That loss cost the Huskies the Pac-12 North title and perhaps a playoff berth.
Back for Washington is quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, who seemingly were recruited by Rick Neuheisel. If that isn’t enough, the Huskies return 9 starters on a defense that finished 6th in the country last season, but will be missing first-round draft pick Vita Vea.
Auburn was flying high last season after defeating both Georgia and Alabama in the regular season, but then lost to the Bulldogs in the conference championship game and then lost to Central Florida in the Peach Bowl.
The Tigers return Jarrett Stidham under center, so they figure to be right back in the mix come November.
Washington is loaded and dangerous, but this figures to be a home game for the Tigers.
Auburn 27 Washington 24
ATS – AUBURN
SU – AUBURN
Ole Miss @ Texas Tech -2.5
Kliff Kingsbury saved his job last Thanksgiving, but he’ll likely be on the hot seat again this fall as the Red Raiders have to replace their starting quarterback, running back and four of their top five receivers. This from an offense that fell to 25th in the country last season, which means it was practically the wishbone in Lubbock.
On defense, Tech returns their much of their starting defense from last season, when they almost resembled an actual functional unit. They’ll face quarterback Jordan Ta’amu for Ole Miss, who filled in nicely for the injured Shea Patterson last season. Rebels wide receiver AJ Brown figures to be the first receiver selected in the NFL Draft next fall.
All of this adds up to what should be an exciting affair in Lubbock…one that should see the Red Raiders come out on top.
Texas Tech 44 Ole Miss 38
ATS – TEXAS TECH
SU – TEXAS TECH
Florida Atlantic @ Oklahoma -21
The Kyler Murray era begins in Norman, and while it is yet to be seen if it can surpass the largely forgettable Kyler Murray era in College Station, it promises to be short, as Murray has already committed to joining the Oakland A’s next spring.
Florida Atlantic has the potential to be one of the better Group of Five teams in the country, as they finished last season with a 10-game winning streak. To do so, they’ll have to replace offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who fled to Houston. Lane Kiffin replaced him with Charlie Weis Jr. Weis has some weapons on offense, as running back Devin Singletary has home run ability (his 32 touchdowns last season were the third most in FBS history) and former Florida State/Last Chance U quarterback De’Andre Johnson competes with former Sooner Chris Robison.
Despite the loss of Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma figures to be one of the best teams in the country, but there will likely be a feeling out period to begin.
Oklahoma 38 Florida Atlantic 21
ATS – FLORIDA ATLANTIC
SU – OKLAHOMA
Texas vs. Maryland (Landover, MD)
My favorite articles this pre-season are those that say that Texas “can’t take Maryland lightly”. The Longhorns gave up 51 points and 482 yards to the Terrapins in last season’s opener in Austin…there is no reason to take anyone lightly.
Several key injuries wrecked the season for Maryland last season, and while they return a very solid squad, including quarterbacks Tyrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill and running back Ty Johnson (who ran for 132 yards and a score last season), an off-season that was full of tragedy and controversy promises to damage the psyche on some level.
For about as long as Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin have been at Washington the answer to the “how good are the Longhorns going to be” starts and ends with the quarterback. If Sam Ehlinger has moved past his back breaking late game tendencies and has made the next step as a quarterback, this season has the potential to be a very solid one in Austin.
If not, and if Shane Buechele can’t pick up the slack, then welcome back into the never-ending cycle.
With the mess going on in College Park, this is a game where Texas needs to set the tone early and keep it up.
Much like the season.
Texas 34 Maryland 17
ATS – TEXAS
SU – TEXAS
For entertainment purposes only. Save your money for Chesapeake blue crabs.