Texas showed it's still no factor to Baylor, TCU for Big 12 supremacy

Texas Longhorns coach Charlie Strong looked down from behind the podium as he spoke Saturday night, seemingly in disbelief, though refusing to fall on the sword of the promises he had made in the offseason.

Texas was going to be better, Strong had said, than last year's 6-7 team.

But in a 38-3 loss at Notre Dame -- the second-most lopsided season-opening defeat in school history -- the Longhorns somehow actually looked worse.

Week 1 in the Big 12 showed that co-favorites Baylor and TCU have areas to smooth out before conference play begins later this month. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin wasn't sharp, overthrowing open receivers at Minnesota; the Baylor defense was a disaster in the first half at SMU.

But opening week also revealed that, despite such issues, neither the Bears nor Horned Frogs need worry about Texas being a factor in the Big 12 title race yet again.

"It's always a shock when you go get embarrassed," Strong said. "You would've figured we would've come out and played much better than we did."

"I think we are a better football team than that."

Watching the film might change his mind. Texas was utterly hopeless in South Bend, incapable of moving the ball, unable to stop it.

Quarterback, for a change, wasn't actually Texas' biggest problem. An offensive line starting a pair of true freshmen was overmatched, leaving Tyrone Swoopes scrambling from the pocket long before his receivers had broken off their routes. On the rare occasions he did have time, Swoopes made little happen, either, to finish with a paltry QBR of 7.6 (out of 100).

"They just teed off," Strong said, "and were able to get the pressure."

Texas could've alleviated the pressure by handing off to its most proven offensive weapon, running back Johnathan Gray. Instead, Gray touched the ball just eight times all night, and not once until Texas' third drive; by then, the Irish led, 14-0.

Defensively, the Longhorns unveiled a star-in-the-making in true freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson, who came to play in his college debut. Otherwise, the Texas defense was hapless, as Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire completed all but three of his passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns.

Sure, Zaire looks like a budding quarterback. And yes, Notre Dame has a quality team. Who knows, maybe a playoff-caliber team? But this also isn't 1947. That wasn't Johnny Lujack behind center, even if Texas made Zaire look like a Heisman winner.

Few actually believed Texas would pull the upset in South Bend. But most expected a sign of progress. A decent showing. Any semblance of fight. Instead, the end result was mere formality by the second quarter.

"We are a better football team than what we showed," Strong said. "I keep saying it, but we've got to keep believing it and our players have to keep believing it."

Strong argued the program isn't headed in reverse. But the evidence suggests otherwise. In Mack Brown's final Big 12 game as coach two years ago, remember, the Longhorns were playing for a conference title. These Longhorns look like they're going to labor just to become bowl-eligible for the second straight season.

Sure, Strong walked into a situation in need of a revamp that wasn't going to happen overnight. But don't forget, Bob Stoops won a national championship in his second season at Oklahoma. And the Sooners were in far worse shape then than Texas was when Strong took over.

Sensing the Longhorns were on the way to turning a corner after three consecutive wins last November, Strong vowed a season like last year's "would never happen in this program again."

Turns out, Strong could be proven right. This season could be worse.

"We have to get better," Strong said. "We have to improve."

To contend for the playoff, Baylor and TCU will need to improve after their openers, too. But for Texas, contending never seemed so far away.