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Why Texas Is the Team No College Football Team Wants to Face in a Bowl Game

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterNovember 18, 2014

FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2014, file photo, Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong, right, congratulates players as they walk off the field during the second half of an NCAA college football game against West Virginia in Austin, Texas. BOUND- Texas is bowl bound. That seemed such an unlikely scenario for first-year coach Charlie Strong when the Longhorns got shut out a month ago and were sinking fast. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

Charlie Strong's Texas Longhorns are bowl-eligible. That could be bad news for whichever team gets matched up against them in the postseason. 

A convincing 28-7 rout at Oklahoma State in Week 12 marked the third straight win for Texas—and the fourth in the past five games—after it began the season 2-4. David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest calls Texas the most improved team in the Big 12 from the start of conference play to now. 

It started with changing the mentality and honoring Strong's core values: honesty, treating women with respect, and no drugs, stealing or guns. 

By the time Texas took the field against Oklahoma State, Strong was convincing his players that the outside temperature was just a number. 

Mike Finger @mikefinger

Charlie Strong on his pregame message to players: "They told me it was cold. I told them it wasn't cold."

To be clear, the Longhorns aren't college football's most dangerous team. They're not going to be playing in a College Football Playoff semifinal, and there's only a thin chance they'll actually win the Big 12.

Still, the turnaround in Austin appears to have started. Here's how it happened. 

Growing Pains and Buying In

It helps that the Horns have been able to improve against the softer part of their schedule. Even before the season began, the first six games—which included BYU, UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma—looked daunting. Then came the attrition through injuries, suspensions and dismissals.

Texas lost its two most valuable offensive players, center Dominic Espinosa and quarterback David Ash, to season- and career-ending injuries, respectively, in early September. The O-line was one of the least experienced groups in major college football, and backup quarterback Tyrone Swoopes was thrust into the starting job. 

On top of that, starting cornerback Quandre Diggs, an outspoken leader of the team, told Max Olson of ESPN.com in July that there were players on the roster who weren't going to last: 

I told Coach Strong that I just feel like we had guys on the team that just didn't love football the way they should. That's something that I've always sensed since I've been here: We had guys that just didn't love football. If you don't love football, you don't need to be a part of this university or a part of this team. That's just something I feel greatly and strong about.

Combine the attrition and inexperience, and there were going to be growing pains. 

Texas' talented defense, which includes players such as Diggs and defensive tackle Malcolm Brown, has usually played well enough to win. On the season, the Horns have given up just 21 points per game, 19th in the country, and 4.59 yards per playIn short, the defense did what it could, but it didn't get help from the offense until recently. 

Mike Finger @mikefinger

These are the same defensive players that Manny Diaz couldn't even get lined up right. Amazing.

Sure enough, close games resulted in losses. In three of Texas' five losses, the Longhorns trailed by only one possession at halftime. Only Kansas State led by two, and the Horns actually led UCLA at the half. 

Texas Losses
OpponentHalftime ScoreFinal Score
BYUBYU 6, Texas 0BYU 41, Texas 7
UCLATexas 10, UCLA 3UCLA 20, Texas 17
BaylorBaylor 7, Texas 0Baylor 28, Texas 7
OklahomaOklahoma 17, Texas 13Oklahoma 31, Texas 26
Kansas StateKansas State 13, Texas 0Kansas State 23, Texas 0
ESPN.com

Texas has been an awful second-half team, specifically in the third quarter, when the offense usually came out flat. In third quarters, Texas averages just under 3.6 yards per carry on the ground—nearly a full yard less than in the first half. On the season, Texas has scored just two touchdowns in the third quarter. 

That's not helping the defense, and the results showed. In the second half of games this season, the Longhorns have given up nearly double the rush yards (2.89 in the first half versus 4.79 in the second), though they remain consistent against the pass (about 5.5 yards per attempt given up per game). 

Once the offense got going, things changed for the better. 

An Offensive Revival 

Now that the offense has picked up and scored 31.7 points per game in the month of November, Texas is looking like a team that can cause headaches for opponents. 

Texas is not a high-powered offense. The Horns run about 71 plays per game and aren't very explosive, but the offense is becoming more effective. In the last five games, Swoopes has thrown for at least 200 yards three times and has five touchdowns to just two interceptions. 

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Swoopes has been and continues to be a work in progress. He takes three steps forward, two steps back and so on, but he easily had his best game of the season against the Cowboys. With the one-two punch of Johnathan Gray and Brown at running back, it's a pick-your-poison type of backfield. In two of the past three games, Gray or Brown has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark.

That also says a lot about how the offensive line has come together. 

It's not an offense to be compared to the likes of Baylor or TCU, but it works for a defensive-minded coach like Strong. Over the past three games, Texas has exerted dominance over middle-of-the-road Big 12 teams. 

It's not a narrative-driven Big 12 offense that runs 100 plays and scores 50 points a game, but that was never going to be Strong's modus operandi. Rather, it's a slow, gradual tightening of the noose that's never truly a blowout but never in doubt either. 

Chris B. Brown @smartfootball

@InTheBleachers biggest reason to root for Charlie as non-Texas fan is his teams do this to people. They strangle you

Whether that formula works in Texas' season-ending game against TCU (Nov. 27) remains to be seen. The Frogs are on a path to at least a share of the Big 12 title and could be a playoff team. The difference in offensive production from a year ago to now for TCU might be the most dramatic in the country. 

Certainly, it could be Texas' toughest challenge to date. Win or lose, making TCU work for everything, like the Longhorns have made other teams do all year, would be a sign that the Longhorns are still improving. 

One benefit of going to a bowl is the extra practice, which Texas badly needs. Every chance for Swoopes to improve, for the offensive line to play together, for the team to continue to grow is valuable.  

With as many as 15 more practices under Texas' belt, the Longhorns could be the team no opponent wants to play in bowl season. 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com 

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