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Longhorns' new start comes alongside new playoff format

By N.Y. TIMES NEWS SERVICE
July 5, 2014 at 2:41 p.m.


AUSTIN - Here's the most exciting thing about the upcoming football season and the new, albeit awkwardly named College Football Playoff. You don't have to be ranked No. 1 or No. 2. Third or fourth will do just fine.

Don't expect coaches to go around shouting, "We're No. 4!" But that'll be good enough to get into the new four-team playoff format that will determine this year's national champion.

That's why new Texas football coach Charlie Strong may not have as far an uphill climb as it appears.

The Associated Press Top 25 won't make its debut until August. Starting in late October, the 13-member CFP selection committee will unveil its weekly poll on Tuesdays during the regular season.

There's been a ton of handwringing locally about the quarterback position, and rightfully so. But nationally, last year's Texas team is remembered for being 30 minutes away from winning the Big 12 and nearly playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

If quarterback David Ash (concussions, foot injury) returns healthy as expected, the new-look Longhorns will definitely get early Top 25 consideration. The program always has, no matter the circumstance.

In John Mackovic's final season, the Longhorns finished 4-7 in 1997. Three sets of goal posts were torn down that year - at Oklahoma State, Missouri and Baylor. That was the year planes flew over Royal-Memorial Stadium carrying signs that said, "Dump DeLoss (Dodds) and Flush The John."

But in came Mack Brown and with a convincing win in the 1998 season opener, Texas was back in the AP poll at No. 23. Having future Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams on the field sure helped.

A six-game winning streak got Brown on his feet. A Cotton Bowl victory over Mississippi State helped, too, and Texas finished that season ranked 15th.

Brown's program was on its way.

The Longhorns posted double-digit win totals every year from 2001-09 and captured the 2005 national title along the way.

In recent years, though, pollsters stopped giving Brown and the Longhorns the benefit of the doubt.

Texas was ranked 15th going into the 2012 matchup against No. 13 Oklahoma. But after the Sooners dominated play in a 63-21 rout, the Longhorns were knocked out of the Top 25. It took a three-game winning streak just to get back in.

After Ash led a stirring comeback over Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl, the Longhorns finished the year ranked 19th in the AP poll.

Then last season, Texas rose as high as 15th before the demoralizing loss at BYU. Pollsters apparently had enough. Brown's program wasn't allowed back in the poll until after a six-game winning streak made it impossible to overlook the Longhorns.

After a 1-3 finish, though, Texas didn't get a single vote in the final AP poll.

The overriding message is that pollsters love Texas when the team is winning and they'll overlook occasional hiccups, but embarrass them enough and it's over.

Very few believe Strong will have the Longhorns ranked high enough to get into the CFP this season. The online wagering site Bovada doesn't even list Texas as a futures bet to get there. Bovada has odds on Oklahoma and Baylor, though.

If Texas can get through a rugged September with a winning record, then look for the Longhorns to start shooting up the polls.

Remember, all you have to do is finish the regular season ranked fourth.

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