FRISCO, Texas – Tom Herman was asked how many players were on the Texas roster who could be the kind of difference makers that win a championship. For nearly 10 seconds, the second-year Longhorns coach sat silently. One could almost see the gears grinding, the brain cells computing and assessing the answer. Then he responded. “Some.”

That’s not a championship-level answer (and, yes, there are still charts above the urinals reminding UT’s players to hydrate and produce “championship level” urine). But after a 7-6 season – the won-loss record was an improvement from the Charlie Strong Era but still mediocre – Year Two under Herman has much greater and higher expectations.

Oklahoma is again favored to top the standings and win its fourth consecutive Big 12 title. Texas might be a dark horse favorite to challenge for the championship, but the Longhorns have lost the magic that produces great seasons. Since 2014, Texas has a total of 23 victories. During that same four-year span, Georgia Southern – which started playing at the FBS level in 2014 – has won 25 games.

The Longhorns and the short of it is that UT has forgotten how to win. Last season, the Horns teased but failed to please their fans losing two games in overtime and two others by a total of nine points. Trade those oh-so-close losses for victories and Herman’s debut season could have been spectacular.Texas has developed a two-word motto for 2018: Develop, finish. The development has to do with the obvious – bigger, stronger, faster.

“And we have been training our guys how to finish,” Herman said. “Every drill that we do, every workout that we have, everything that we do has a finish component to it. Meaning we require our guys to be at their very best when the game is on the line and I think our guys have really taken to that.” So far during his time in Austin, Herman has talked a better game than his team has played.

“Can they take the next step? Sure. It remains to be seen if they will,” said Rick Neuheisel, who was on hand for Sirius/XM Radio. “I think they’re one or two more recruiting classes away from the pieces that Herman needs to compete for a championship. To compete at the highest level, you need depth and size. I’m not sure they’re at that level.”

Texas opens the season at Maryland, the team that started the Herman Era off with a stunning defeat in Austin last season. Two weeks later, USC visits for a prime-time game. The last time the Longhorns went undefeated in non-conference play was 2012. The last five seasons they’ve compiled a 6-9 record out of league play. A 3-0 start isn’t crucial but providing a boost heading into Big 12 play could be the difference between flirting with .500 in November and making some late-season noise.

And about that 10-second pause … here’s some of Herman’s answer once he collected his thoughts. “I do think we have some (difference makers) and I think every coach that sits up here would tell you they don’t have enough,” he said. “I do think we’re getting closer and closer to those elite programs in terms of the necessary elite championship caliber talent.”

Colors, bright lights, speed

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy – yes, folks, the mullet is still in full flow – was asked about his program’s trend-setting use of uniform combinations. His answer was insightful and delightful.
“We live in a world with young people, the Generation Z, the kids that we coach nowadays and it’s all about bling and social media and can I get my story out there and what do I have on and what do you have on and that’s the trend right now.

Those are the young men we’re recruiting. So we cater to where our sales could be, the sales that can help the company roll and this is the company and the business we’re in is recruiting 17, 18 year old young men.

“They’re fascinated by colors and bright lights and things that move fast. We’ve been fortunate that our administration understood that years ago. We were probably a little bit ahead of the times. I think now most everybody is for the most part catching up, but that’s the world we live in now. So we’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses as we move forward.”

Rules rule

There’s only one new rule that figures to have an impact on games. That’s the rule that allows for a fair catch of a kickoff that’s inside the receiving team’s 25-yard line, with the ensuing possession starting at the 25.

Two new rules border on the ludicrous.

One, teams will be limited to just 20 headsets on the sidelines for each staff. Limiting headsets is one of those administrative decisions that point out the idiocracy of rule makers and the idiocracy a football staff needing more than 20 headsets. The other rule is drawing from the NFL’s uniform policing policies. Players’ pants must cover the knees; if not, that player could be forced to sit out a play. Mid-jerseys are no longer legal (sorry, guys, exposing those six packs won’t be allowed). Plus, t-shirts worn under jerseys must be the same color as the jersey and must be tucked in. So, add counting headsets and assessing the dress of 22 players to the to-do list of officiating crews.

Notable quotes

New Big 12 coordinator of officiating Greg Burks: “I would remind you our number one job, if you want to stay employed as an official in the Big 12 you better get plays right. You better get plays right.”

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen on Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, who is still coaching at 79: “I ain’t doing it when I’m 79. I’ll be lucky to be here when I’m 79.”

Baylor coach Matt Rhule on sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer: “The key for Charlie is to continue to be the guy that’s laughing at me in the huddle, telling me to calm down. He’s a true freshman telling me to calm down in the middle of a game. He’s got that to him. He’s got that ‘it’ factor to him, and keeping that and making sure he grows as a quarterback.”