AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Charlie Strong's third season at Texas boils down to three things.
First, find a quarterback. Second, fix a bad defense. Third, win enough games to not get fired.
No pressure, right?
To look at Strong, he doesn't appear to be feeling any. He cracks jokes at news conferences, talks freely about how crucial the Sept. 4 season opener against Notre Dame will be, and generally shrugs off the “what-if” scenarios of the chaos a third consecutive losing season would create at Texas.
Make no mistake. Strong knows he has to win this season: no excuses after an 11-14 mark over the past two years.
“Expectations here are always high, which they should be,” Strong said “There is no reason for us to go 6-7 and 5-7 and you want to see progress. I totally agree with that and we should.”
Looking back, Strong's third year at Louisville saw the program get a huge bounce from 7-6 the previous year to 11-2 with a dominating Sugar Bowl win over Florida.
Few expect that kind of Longhorns resurgence this season in the Big 12. Not yet, but Texas fans expect to at least get to a bowl game.
Some things to watch with the Longhorns in 2016:
QUARTERBACK: After six seasons of misfires, everything has been about the quarterback. Freshman Shane Buechele emerged from the spring as the likely starter by the time the season starts but the excitement over his spring performance clouded some of the reality: He completed 52 percent of his passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns. At Texas, that's improvement. But keep in mind: Since 1893, true freshman quarterbacks have started only 19 games at Texas.
BULL RUSH: If Texas has anything, it's size and power in the backfield in tailbacks Chris Warren III (252 pounds) and D'Onta Foreman (249). If those two can steadily move the chains, they relieve pressure on the quarterback and an offense still looking for consistent play-making threats on the outside.
KICKER: Texas had a glaring problem for most of the offseason because it didn't have a kicker. A good one landed in Austin when LSU-transfer Trent Domingue picked the Longhorns. Domingue was a Groza Award semifinalist last season.
KEY GAMES: So many to pick from because the final tally of wins and losses likely decides Strong's future. But put the focus on the front end of the schedule, because a bad start likely means a bad end for Strong. Texas hosts Notre Dame on Sept. 4, travels to Cal on Sept. 17 and travels to Oklahoma State on Oct. 1. All three beat Texas last season.
SEASON OPENER: Arguably, no team or coach has a more important first game. Notre Dame's 38-3 pasting of Texas to open 2015 sent the Longhorns into a shocking tailspin and it's fair to say the 2016 season could rest on this game as well. The Longhorns will be determined to make up for being embarrassed and the rematch has been slotted for a Sunday night prime-time national television audience. A win would be a huge boost for the entire program. Lose and the backroom phone calls with demands to replace Strong may start when the final whistle blows.
PREDICTION: 7-6. The question is, will a winning season by the slimmest of margins save Strong's job?