- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Last week, we started our series on the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big 12 team.
The premise of these fun posts is to examine what the season might look like if everything falls into place for each school -- the best-case scenario for 2014. Conversely, we’ll also show what might happen if everything goes wrong -- the worst-case scenario.
We continue the series today with Texas.
Mack Brown’s debut season at Texas featured a Heisman Trophy winner (Ricky Williams), a 9-3 record and a win in the Cotton Bowl. Tough act to follow, but why not try?
To kick off this run, David Ash takes the boot off his left foot in early July and the word “injury” is never whispered for the rest of his career. The Longhorns don’t need much from him to beat down North Texas in the opener, not with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray each rushing for 100 yards.
The team doesn't need much motivation against BYU, either. Texas exorcises last year’s demons by holding BYU to an unprecedented minus-550 rushing yards.
Even with Ash’s physical invincibility, Texas is challenged by a top-10 UCLA team. Trailing 28-20 early in the fourth quarter, Charlie Strong elects to insert freshman Jerrod Heard. He goes off on the Bruins, throwing for a touchdown and rushing for two more to pull off the upset. Texas goes to 3-0 and No. 10 in the polls.
Strong sticks with Heard the rest of the season and he throws for 3,707 yards and 27 touchdowns, plus 1,411 rushing yards and 22 more TDs. It’s not enough to win the Heisman, but Heard does finish second and inspires a recruiting run in December and January the likes of which this state has never seen.
So Texas beats UCLA and then has a close call at Kansas – Ash’s fourth-quarter cameo saves the day – before the big home game against No. 4 Baylor. Final score: Texas 6, Baylor 3.
Next up: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Texas. Blake Bell – yes, the Sooners go back to Blake Bell – throws for 130 yards and two interceptions and Texas wins 49-17. That makes six games in a row that Gray and Brown have each gone for 100-plus.
Texas takes care of Iowa State and Kansas State, but a nail-biter in Lubbock ends in heartbreak when Davis Webb connects with Jakeem Grant for the game-winner with 1 second left, evoking comparisons to the ending in 2008. Texas is despondent, but still No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
They beat West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU but finish in the dreaded No. 5 spot. In an incredibly close vote, the committee’s sixth tiebreaker is Strong’s April 21 statement that Texas will not play for a national championship. Alabama secures the No. 4 spot and is one of three SEC teams in the inaugural playoff.
Texas settles for a spot in the Sugar Bowl and beats LSU 33-23. Gray and Brown each finish with 1,500 rushing yards and join Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs in earning All-America honors. A record-breaking 15 Longhorns are selected in the NFL draft.
Texas has no troubles against North Texas – in fact, a healthy Ash looks encouragingly good – and folks are feeling good about the beginning of the Strong era.
But then Texas loses to BYU thanks to more heroics from Taysom Hill and his knee brace-aided touchdown runs, and this reeling team isn’t ready for the big stage in Jerry World against UCLA. Brett Hundley raises his Heisman stock with a big game and the Longhorns’ inability-to-tackle woes are again a trend.
Texas coaches have two weeks to prepare Heard for the Big 12 opener against Kansas, but they stick with Ash the rest of the season and let the rookie redshirt. Ash’s final numbers are solid, all in all – he returns to putting up top-25 passing numbers in several metrics, as he did in 2012 – but by the end of the season the Longhorns have no more confidence in their quarterback situation than they did on June 25.
Texas gets to 2-2 with a win over Kansas, then gives up 45 points to Baylor in a game that gets out of hand in the second half. Art Briles wears his Big 12 title belt on the sideline the entire fourth quarter.
Despite a valiant effort in a closer-than-expected battle, Texas still comes up just short against Oklahoma and drops to 2-4.
Texas does get to six wins by beating Iowa State, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, but hardly anyone notices. The nation is too captivated by a playoff race that ends with Oklahoma, Baylor, Alabama and Florida State making the College Football Playoff. The Sooners win it all.
But Texas’ humiliation doesn’t end there. The AdvoCare Texas Bowl jumps at the chance to pit the 6-6 Longhorns against a 6-6 Texas A&M team in Houston. The Aggies get the last laugh on a field goal as time expires.