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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – The losses keep coming for Charlie Strong, no matter what promises were made in the past.
For the third year in a row, Strong’s Texas Longhorns have lost at least five games, rekindling questions of whether the program has improved enough for him to earn a fourth year and another $5 million, or if the losing is just too much for one of the nation’s blue-blood schools to stomach.
“I look at how we’re playing. I don’t ever make excuses. There are no excuses,” Strong said Monday. “The losses are mounting. There’s games we should win and we had our opportunity.”
Rewind to November 2014, when the Longhorns were 6-5 in Strong’s first season and he boldly predicted that five losses “will never happen in this program again.” Texas finished that year 6-7, then went 5-7 and missed the postseason in 2015.
The dreaded five-loss threshold was crossed again over the weekend with a 24-20 home loss to No. 10 West Virginia, when the Longhorns never led and couldn’t win despite forcing four turnovers.
Texas (5-5, 3-4 Big 12) still isn’t bowl eligible with two games left at Kansas on Saturday and at home against TCU the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Strong was asked how he would sell that his team is making progress if he were in a job evaluation.
“You still have a football team that’s still competing, still playing hard. That’s what you like to see happening,” Strong said.
There are tangible improvements he could have noted.
Texas has two wins over top 10 opponents Notre Dame and Baylor, even though neither program is anywhere near that lofty status any more. The offense under first-year coordinator Sterlin
Gilbert and led by powerhouse running back D’Onta Foreman, who averages 178 yards per game, is a complete turnaround from the previous two seasons. Other than Foreman, Texas’ best players have been sophomores and freshmen, including quarterback Shane Buechele, giving whoever coaches Texas in 2017 a bright future.
“We’re a good team,” Buechele said. “Coach always says our record doesn’t define us … We can beat anybody.”
Even a defense that was bad early has improved once Strong took over the play-calling. The Longhorns rank among the best in the nation with 36 sacks.
And gone are the blowouts of Strong’s first two years, when his teams lost nine games by 18 points or more. Texas is 12 points from 8-2. They are also 12 points from 2-8.
In other words, Strong is dancing on a razor-thin difference between dominant and disaster, only to find himself balancing on mediocre.
Texas President Greg Fenves and athletic director Mike Perrin have publicly supported Strong all season. Fenves will look carefully at Strong’s entire resume to decide if he gets a fourth season on a guaranteed five-year contract.
“The president will take a long look at it,’ Strong said. “We still have two games left.”
Getting to a bowl game would be a good step forward, even if it’s still far short of the leap Texas fans — and college football — expected after a thrilling double-overtime win over Notre Dame in the season opener.
“We have to get to a bowl game,” Strong said. “Our seniors deserve to get to a bowl game.”
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