Strength in Numbers: Expectations Unmet

While preparing the Longhorns for battle against the Sooners, <B>Mack Brown</b> puzzlingly proclaimed Texas could lose and still have a great season. Recently though, the Longhorns' coach stated: "the only losses here are devastating because you don't plan on losing. Our expectation is to win every one of them." Maybe he's not including that annual tilt in Dallas.

In reality, Mack once declared (and assumedly still has) the national title as his main goal–something Texas fans crave to hear. But some seem to believe this is too steep a task, at least at this juncture, based on protestations frequently read on the message boards. The question posed is: what do you think is a reasonable outlook for Texas and Coach Brown after nearly five years under his leadership?

If those expectations exceed what Mack has already accomplished, then the comments emitted from athletic director DeLoss Dodds will alarm you. When asked if the UT football coach might make any coaching changes, Brown's boss told the Austin American Statesman, "I wouldn't think so. I'm ecstatic with Mack. What he's done is beyond my expectations."

Beyond expectations? Wow, for a moment there I thought Texas actually possessed one of the highest all-time winning percentages and riveting resources from which to draw upon. Are you as an Orangeblood fired up to know you've already reached your football nirvana?

Then again, one shouldn't be stunned to hear such finite goals from an athletic director who has presided over the worst 14-year period in Texas' football history. Seemingly, any kind of record beyond breakeven looms as a large success.

Most would agree, however, the Longhorn gridiron program is on firmer footing than it has been since the early 1980s under "Frantic Freddie" Akers, and Mack Brown deserves much credit for that. But is a two-loss fifth place national finish enough? UT's current head coach has accomplished considerably more than the vast majority of coaches in college football, as evidenced by his owning the longest current run of nine-plus victory seasons, with seven. But the standard at Texas is higher, and thus far, he's "failed" when it comes to attaining the mark expected at such a traditional powerhouse, including a BCS bowl bid at minimum.

It's also inaccurate to say that no programs in this era of scholarship limits can repeatedly win at a very high level. Miami, Nebraska and Florida State come to mind as programs that captured multiple national titles and became frequent fixtures in the top five. Miami, in fact, is currently riding a 32-game winning streak. This even tops Texas' 30-game streak that came when scholarship limitations were only a wishful thought among smaller programs.

More and more coaches are now accomplishing larger objectives in a smaller period of time. From a Horns' perspective, Bob Stoops at OU pops into mind immediately. He not only won a conference crown, but also even captured the national title in his second season. While the "Stoops Standard" may seem unfair (and in fact that level of achievement is highly unusual), some of his success has been equaled by several others. Here are the names of head coaches from BCS conferences who have reached a BCS bowl and/or won a conference title within their first two shots:

Frank Solich (Nebraska)

Bob Stoops (Oklahoma)

Nick Saban (LSU)

Rick Neuheisel (Washington)

Ralph Friedgen (Maryland) (1st year)

Larry Coker (Miami) (1st year)

Jim Tressel (Ohio State)

Others who may join the list:

Mark Richt (Georgia)

Tyrone Willingham (Notre Dame) (1st year)

Peter Carroll (USC)

While attaining such success is difficult, it's reachable, especially for a school like Texas. Mack Brown is finishing up his fifth year at Texas without nailing either standard. Who, after watching the Longhorns crush Texas Tech 58-7 in 1999 to claim the Big 12 south division crown, would have imagined that four years would have culminated with still no conference title nor BCS bowl invitation?

On the subject of the Red Raiders, it brings up a pertinent example of why Texas continues to strain short of the brass ring every season. Despite seeing quarterback Kliff Kinsgbury and Tech coach Mike Leach's offense three times already, UT defensive coordinator Carl Reese was dumbfounded in trying to stop them the fourth time around. A virtual handful of Red Raiders celebrated career-high days on their way to rolling up 606 yards and 42 points in beating the Longhorns. Fast-forward just seven days, and Tech had its worst offensive production of the season, against Oklahoma. Like Reese, OU's defensive coordinator Mike Stoops had played against Leach-led offenses several times. Unlike the Texas DC though, he led a gameplan that held the Tech offense scoreless (the other score came on a kickoff return) before a meaningless flea-flicker pass with the score 53-7 in the fourth quarter. "This was the best defense I've seen the last four years," Kingsbury said. "They beat us in all phases of the game."

Along with Kingsbury, the Horns made a Heisman candidate out of the Sooners' Quentin Griffin. In contrast, Oklahoma's defense has buried three Heisman candidacies this fall, including Kingsbury, Iowa State's Seneca Wallace, and Colorado's Chris Brown.

On offense, Texas often struggles mightily against stronger defenses, and sometimes creates an illusion the lesser ones are even stout versus the run. Against Tech, the UT ground game managed only 92 yards all day. Quentin Griffin amassed that much in just one quarter against the same team on his way to over 200 for the contest. Most damaging is the annual offensive ineptitude versus Oklahoma's defense. In the last three Red River Shootouts, Texas has crawled for a combined aggregate of 73 yards rushing. Griffin compiled more in just the first fifteen minutes of this year's contest against the Horns, and his astounding game tally of 248 more than tripled Texas' three-game total!

According to Mack Brown, such numbers mean little: "We've spent way too much time, in my estimation, talking about stats. Texas is the only place in the country where you can win 49-0, and people still gripe about the running game." Well maybe that's because his team is 39-0 when outrushing its opponent. Maybe it's due to the fact that his team has fallen three straight times to OU when it couldn't run. Chances are, if Texas can't push a Baylor around, Cedric Benson and the rest of the backs will find the tougher defenses too salty to stomach.

Mack Brown also must digest the pressure that continues to quake the longer the Horns go without attaining either/both of the goals Bob Stoops and the coaches noted above have reached in their first two seasons.

Texas fans–at least most–really do appreciate what the UT coach had achieved in his first few seasons, and those accomplishments go beyond winning quite a few games. Mack harmonized many segments of Orangebloods previously segregated, brought the great Darrell Royal back into well-deserved prominence in the program again, and mended fences with the vast majority of high school coaches alienated from an aloof prior regime.

Unfortunately, though any ultimatums are purely premature at this point, Brown is fast approaching his proverbial fork in the road. In order to realize his goal of at least playing for a national championship, he may be forced to take a path that doesn't include everyone now on his staff. Meeting that challenge, not just contending with frenzied fans, may prove his most monumental.

Bert Hancock has owned two college football-related web sites and was designated "Lead Writer" of one of the first independent web sites dedicated strictly to UT sports. At the University of Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Business degree, his area of specialty was in statistics and probabilities. His "Strength In Numbers" column appears weekly on

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