Tony Salinas: Looking at the Longhorns

Charlie Strong Era Begins in Texas

The state of Texas is anxiously awaiting the Longhorn debut of new head coach Charlie Strong. The Horns open 2014 Saturday Night in Austin against North Texas. That’s an ideal starter for a new coach because it’s a game that’s supposed to be a relatively easy win (Texas is favored by 25)…but it’s coming against a bowl team from last year that’s going to just roll over and play dead. 

Strong proved he’s a big time coach at Louisville. Though, there’s a difference between winning at a relative mid-major like that, and living up to the very high expectations annually in place with the Texas program. Is he ready for the challenge? Answer that question correctly, and you’re going to be getting the best of it as a Las Vegas bettor for the next several weeks.

If “Texas Strong” is going to take hold, then the Longhorns could be a legitimate threat to win the Big 12 this year. That may sound bold given all the accolades surrounding Oklahoma and Baylor right now. Just remember that DEFENSE is the perfect antidote to what those two high octane offenses do. Strong emphasizes defense and toughness. Perfect.

But, if Strong is in over his head at this new level, then things could go south for Texas very quickly. They don’t return a lot of experience on offense. Projected quarterback David Ash is injury prone, and could be one more concussion away from retiring. And, the roster is a bit more depleted than expected because Strong had no patience for players who wouldn’t respect his rules. Those players are no longer with the program!

The fan base likes that toughness for now because they got tired of the laxity that represented the end of the Mack Brown era. That same fan base will HATE it if Strong ran too many athletes off in a way that leaves what’s left undermanned and too slow.

I don’t think Texas has a chance to be a national title contender right now given the roster. But, best case scenario is a Big 12 title and a top 10 ranking. Worst case scenario is a losing season because the transition ends up going more slowly than anticipated (possibly exacerbated by a quarterback injury). Given a schedule that includes BYU, UCLA, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and TCU, a 5-7 finish isn’t out of the question.

Handicappers will learn a lot from the first month of action…

Saturday: vs. North Texas
September 6: vs. BYU
September 13: vs. UCLA (in Arlington at Cowboys Stadium)
September 27: vs. Kansas

They don’t have to leave the state once in the first month (that won’t happen until October 25 at Kansas State). Their revenge game against BYU is at home. Let me tell you, it’s common knowledge down in Austin that Strong has been showing game film from that shellacking in Provo to his players all summer long. The Horns were humiliated by their lack of toughness (and tackling!) in that game. They’ve been reminded on a daily basis. If Texas DOESN’T play well in the rematch, you can probably throw in the towel on their 2014 season. Strong will have to recruit real defenders.

You longtime readers know that I play a lot of underdogs. It’s unlikely I’ll be looking to back Texas as big favorites vs. North Texas or Kansas in the first month. They very much could be part of my mix in the BYU and UCLA games (though a big win over BYU could lead to a letdown vs. UCLA). And, I could definitely love a “defensive dog” at value prices when Texas plays other Big 12 contenders down the road.

I’ve lived in Las Vegas for many years now. But, my roots are in Texas. And, I still consider myself a Texan (as do many other poker players here in Vegas!). I will be watching developments very closely with this program all season. I’ll report back on the topic with anything interesting that I find.

You’ve already seen that Las Vegas lines are very soft in the first week of action. Texas A&M/South Carolina missed the mark by a mile, as did Temple/Vanderbilt. Rutgers won as a big dog against an overpriced favorite. Oddsmakers HATE the first week of college football because they’re at the mercy of smart bettors. That means they’re at the mercy of ME!

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