It Might Be Awhile Before Charlie Strong and Texas Can 'Steamroll' the Big 12

Justin Ferguson@@JFergusonBRCFB National AnalystMarch 23, 2016

Charlie Strong isn't one to overhype his own team.

After all, the Texas head coach bluntly stated early in his tenure with the Longhorns that they weren't going to be in the national championship game in 2014—or 2015, for that matter.

His predictions were more than spot-on, as his first two Texas teams each finished with seven losses. Heading into Year 3, there's undeniable heat on the Longhorns to start showing the results of Strong's rebuilding process.

And even with the losing seasons and the mounting pressure, Strong is quite confident in Texas' future. In fact, confident doesn't adequately describe what Strong said earlier this week to a crowd of university faculty, according to Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman:

"What's going to happen when we flip this thing? Where are we going to be then?," he told the crowd of about a hundred faculty members. "You think about what we're doing right now, what's going to happen when we really get it turned?

"They might as well move out of the way, because we are going to steamroll everyone," he added. "That's going to happen.

Strong didn't give a clear timetable of when Texas fans can expect the steamrolling to commence, but he seems confident that it will happen after what he's seen over the last few months.

According to Davis, Strong is excited about the finish his staff had in the 2016 recruiting cycle, which netted the Longhorns the No. 11 class in the country in 247Sports' composite rankings.

But it's going to take a lot more than that before Strong's steamroller can go to work on the rest of the Big 12.

Recruiting victories at Texas are nothing new. The Longhorns have had either the No. 1 or No. 2 class in the Big 12 every year since 247Sports started putting out recruiting rankings. Strong's 2015 class (271.84) was rated higher than his 2016 class (263.41).

Right now, what's important for Strong and Texas is they show solid improvement this fall. Powerhouses in today's college football landscape aren't built quickly.

Nick Saban's first Alabama team went 7-6 in 2007 and infamously fell in an upset loss to lowly Louisiana-Monroe. The next year, the Crimson Tide looked to be at that steamrolling level with a perfect 12-0 record but lost their last two games of the season.

And those two seasons came with a head coach who had already won a national championship elsewhere and early top-five recruiting classes.

In the ACC, Clemson and Florida State both had to establish themselves with consistent double-digit-win seasons under Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher, respectively, before they could go undefeated in their conferences and reach national championship games.

Brian Kelly's Notre Dame team had back-to-back 8-5 campaigns before making it to the national title game in 2012, when the Irish were promptly steamrolled by Saban's Crimson Tide.

Each of these championship-contending programs needed at least a pair of winning seasons before getting back to the big stage. That should be the goal for Texas in 2016: to take the next step rather than focus on the huge leap down the road.

That's not saying Strong shouldn't be confident in his team's future or that he should talk down fans' expectations.

As Jeff Caplan of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote, now is the time to "whip up the fanbase" and focus on the positives ahead of a crucial season for his tenure.

Despite a 5-7 record, Strong had multiple freshmen All-Americans last season. His Longhorns upset rival Oklahoma, which won the Big 12 and was in the College Football Playoff. They also knocked off a depleted yet still dangerous Baylor team away from home to give themselves forward momentum into 2016.

His early "purge" has shed the team of experienced talent heading into this fall, but the majority of the roster will be his own recruits by the start of the 2017 campaign. If the Longhorns continue to land more elite recruits, they'll be top-10-caliber from top to bottom.

All of that has the Texas head coach and his team "believing."

"Right now, our message is 'Believe,'" Strong said, per Davis. "You have to believe in yourself before anyone will ever believe in you. It's all about that—believe in yourself, believe you get it done, believe you can be the best person, the best student. All that works together, and it works together as a team.

"There's no reason for that not to happen."

There's potential for Strong's vision to happen, sure, but it probably won't come without some hiccups along the way.

The Longhorns' struggling offense will have to make the adjustment to a new system this season. While new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert's fast-paced, run-pass option scheme fits more in line with the exciting offensive in-state recruits Strong and his staff are bringing in, there will be some growing pains.

Gilbert has to find a quarterback in Austin who can lead this attack after two years of underwhelming production at the position.

"If Texas doesn't get significantly better quarterback play, nothing else much will matter for Charlie Strong," Jake Trotter of wrote earlier this month.

The 2016 schedule won't necessarily lend itself for a huge campaign, either. The Longhorns don't play a single "gimme" FCS team and will face projected top-25 teams Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU.

If Texas slumps to another subpar record this fall, Strong might not stick around long enough in Austin to see a complete turnaround.

But if Texas gets over the hump in 2016 with a winning season and some more big, momentum-changing victories, this isn't the same Big 12 the Longhorns and Sooners used to dominate.

When Texas went to the BCS National Championship Game in 2009, Baylor was a 4-8 team. Since then, the Bears have gone bowling every season and have won at least a share of two Big 12 titles behind Art Briles' lightning-fast, perennially No. 1 offense.

In 2009, TCU was a mid-major darling playing in the Fiesta Bowl as a member of the Mountain West. The Horned Frogs are now Big 12 contenders after a couple of rough adjustment seasons and are armed with the type of big-play offense that Texas covets.

Baylor and TCU have been able to close the gap on the "big two" of the Big 12 with established systems and lower-rated recruits. Now the two rivals are catching up on the recruiting trail—the Bears had a higher-rated 2016 class than Oklahoma and are ahead of Texas right now for 2017.

Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State team has had four 10-win seasons and a pair of major bowl games since Texas' last one. Relative conference newcomer West Virginia is always dangerous. Texas Tech is building momentum again under Kliff Kingsbury, who took exception to Strong's steamrolling comment:

There's no denying Texas has the resources, brand power, location and prestige to become a permanent part of the national championship picture like an Alabama.

But even when Strong "flips this thing," he'll be pushing it into a league that is stronger than it's ever been in terms of title contenders.

For now, an eight- or nine-win campaign in 2016 should be enough to fire up the Longhorn faithful instead of distant dreams of Texas pulverizing everyone in its path.


Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR. 


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