The Texas Longhorns' football season went a lot like their game against Cal: there was mayhem, there were flashes of brilliance between stretches of meh, and there were a whole bunch of near misses.
The Golden Bears left Austin with a 3-0 record and some lingering chest pain. The Longhorns were 1-2, and things were going to get worse before they got better. A special teams gaffe cost them another game when a botched punt set up #24 Oklahoma State for a game-winning field goal the following week. There would be no reprieve against #4 TCU the following week. At least this one was devoid of drama as the Horned Frogs issued a 50-7 beatdown.
But just when things began to seem desperate, the Longhorns came up with a massive upset over rival #10 Oklahoma. Running an almost entirely ground-based offense, Charlie Strong coached his team to a 24-17 victory in the Red River Showdown. A comfortable win against Kansas State put Texas at 3-4 with the hardest part of their schedule behind them.
The good feelings didn't last long. Neither Jerrod Heard nor backup QB Tyrone Swoopes could find traction against Big 12 bottom dweller Iowa State in a shutout loss. A win over Kansas pushed their record to 4-5, but the Longhorns dropped their next two games to West Virginia and Texas Tech. Despite having no chance at earning a bowl bid, Texas came out firing against #12 Baylor, scoring the game's first 20 points and hanging on for a 23-17 win.
The Longhorns finished the season 5-7 and seventh in the (ten team) Big 12. That has to be a disappointing result for Charlie Strong's second year, but there are a couple of mitigating factors. For one, the quarterback situation never fully resolved itself, as both Heard and Swoopes struggled to find efficiency. Part of that falls on coaching instability, as Jay Norvell was assigned playcalling duties after early season offensive woes. Also worth noting is the youth on defense, which certainly hurt them in the hard first half of their schedule.
The Longhorns come to Berkeley in September for the second half of this home-and-home, and we already know that things will look a little bit different from the last matchup. For starters, Texas has hired OC Sterlin Gilbert from Tulsa to see if he can straighten out this season's issues. Gilbert runs a fast paced spread offense, and will have plenty of weapons to put to work. He'll have to figure out what to do with his two potential QB starters, who split time in the leading role towards the end of the season.
That QB situation is worth keeping an eye on, especially since the Bears defense struggled so mightily against Heard. The mobile freshman racked up 364 passing yards and 163 more on the ground. If you still have nightmares about that performance, try to forget that it was his best of the year by a large margin and instead focus on the fact that nearly Cal's entire front seven will return a year stronger and more experienced. And if Swoopes earns the starting job, rest easy knowing he's never eclipsed 100 rushing yards in a game.
On the personnel front, the Longhorns will have to navigate the loss of RB Johnathan Gray (two TDs against Cal) as well as star DT Hassan Ridgeway. They have some help coming in their recruiting class, which is currently ranked in the low thirties by most services. The defense will also benefit from the youth influx this season, with LB Malik Jefferson and others getting plenty of experience.
Whereas Cal's O vs. Texas' D was the apparent pregame storyline in 2015, the opposite will likely be true next time around. The pressure on Longhorns DC Vance Bedford to show improvement will be immense, and his team will be eager to challenge whoever succeeds Jared Goff. The schedule sets up similarly to this season, with Texas being the big nonconference challenge after ramp-up games against Hawaii and SDSU.
With all the changes then, Texas will have a lot of questions to answer going into the fall. Their first game, against Notre Dame, should be a pretty good preview of what the Bears will face come September.