NEW ORLEANS — It has been a long time since Texas Longhorns football was in the national spotlight.
An appearance in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 gives Texas a chance to capture much-needed positive attention after the program toiled in relative anonymity since winning its most recent Big 12 title under Mack Brown in 2009.
Hard to believe, the Longhorns haven’t played in a bowl game outside the state of Texas since the 2011 Holiday Bowl, having made two appearances in the Alamo Bowl (2012, 2013) and two Texas Bowls (2014, 2017).
Georgia is a double-digit favorite in the New Year’s classic, anywhere from 11 to 14 points.
Texas, however, is projected to bring almost twice as many fans and the team is decidedly excited for the chance to beat an SEC team.
Danny Davis, who covers Texas for the Austin American Statesman, took time to answer six sizzling questions about the Longhorns football program upon the team’s arrival on Thursday:
1. Tom Herman’s character was targeted by fallen Ohio State assistant Zach Smith earlier this season, do you think that has that been a distraction for him or the team?
DD: I don’t think it has been. The players have shrugged it off when asked, and Tom’s “OK. Cool. Hook Em!” response has become an inappropriate rallying cry for some of the kids in the UT athletic department. This football team has some very strong leaders in its locker room. If they’ve been able to weather the storm caused by a couple of in-season suspensions, a heartbreaking loss to West Virginia and a handful of Breckyn Hager-related headlines, I doubt that their coach’s off-field issues have caused much of a ripple.
2. Texas has developed a reputation as an underachieving football program since Mack Brown left, but has this season’s team underachieved?
DD: It really depends on what you expected Texas to be. Based on the talent on its roster, you can easily argue that a four-loss season is a disappointment. If you are pointing out that this team was picked in the preseason to finish fourth in the Big 12 after claiming the 2017 Texas Bowl as an achievement, then the Longhorns have overachieved. As with most arguments, the truth lies in the middle. Four losses should never be a standard at Texas, but the program did make some significant strides this season.
3. What is Texas’ strength on offense?
DD: Texas junior receivers Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson have developed into standouts this fall, and their highlights have overshadowed a solid season by classmate and fellow pass-catcher Devin Duvernay. Additionally, only five teams have lost fewest turnovers than Texas (11), and Sam Ehlinger set a Big 12 record during the season when he threw 308 straight passes without an interception. Since it lost three games last year because of mind-numbing turnovers, Texas must be pleased with that progression.
4. Tom Herman talked about how Texas plays running teams like Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas, do the Longhorns players seem to believe that Georgia’s run game will be similar?
DD: The players are aware that the Bulldogs are a different animal. Kansas and Iowa State have some running backs that can ball, but I doubt that Texas is going to be over-confident this week because of how they played in those games. Of the six linebackers and linemen that UT will start on Tuesday, five will be seniors so a physical game like this should be a great test for those with professional aspirations.
5. Is Texas still considered the marquee program in the state, or has Texas A&M, with its SEC membership and national championship coach, replaced it from a perception standpoint?
DD: You are just trying to light my Twitter mentions on fire, aren’t you? This is an argument that is never going to be won, so these two teams should just get back together and settle it on the field. A very proud fanbase at Texas A&M has a lot to brag about, and the Aggies will be fun to watch as Jimbo Fisher molds that program. I still think that Texas has a bigger national profile thanks to the Longhorn Network and the road to glory is easier since the Big 12 isn’t the SEC.
6. What area would you give Texas an edge over Georgia?
DD: We’ve talked about UT’s strengths in the receiving corps and with limiting turnovers. Maybe a secondary that employs both veterans and freshmen has caught up with Georgia on paper since Deandre Baker isn’t playing. The biggest match-up to me, though, will be Ehlinger and Jake Fromm. If Ehlinger can be the better quarterback in New Orleans, the Longhorns will have a shot.
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