Everyone involved with Utah’s program will spend some portion of December, if not the entire month and some years to come, wishing the Utes would have qualified for a College Football Playoff game vs LSU.
The best the Utes could do in 2019 was draw a bowl opponent that came within seven points of the Tigers in September. Texas also lost to Oklahoma, LSU’s semifinal opponent, by only by a touchdown in October.
That’s how the marketing works, here in college football’s consolation bracket. The Utes (11-2) will appear in the Alamo Bowl as a team that was positioned for a bigger prize that would have come with a win over Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, after climbing to No. 5 in the rankings. Texas’ strongest credentials are how the Longhorns came close to beating two great teams.
That’s not good enough, of course, explaining why coach Tom Herman fired his defensive coordinator and two offensive coaches and demoted his offensive coordinator last week. The Longhorns’ 7-5 record “will never be our standard at Texas,” Herman said in making those moves.
The combination of Texas’ offense being so prolific and its defense so porous helped launch the Heisman Trophy campaign of LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. The Longhorns kept scoring, getting within 30-28 early in the fourth quarter, so Burrow had to keep throwing — ultimately topping Texas’ Sam Ehlinger with 471 yards passing to 401, with four touchdown passes each.
Texas went 5-4 to finish in a four-way tie for third place in the Big 12, with its most significant wins coming over Oklahoma State (36-30) and Kansas State (27-24). The Longhorns needed a last-second field goal to beat lowly Kansas (50-48) and lost to Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU and Iowa State.
Because the Pac-12 failed to produce a Playoff team, conference champion Oregon is in the Rose Bowl and runner-up Utah fell just below the New Year's Six tier, being edged by Penn State for a Cotton Bowl berth. Virginia (Orange), Wisconsin (Rose), Georgia (Sugar) and Baylor (Sugar) all were promoted as their leagues' replacements for CFP teams in major bowls.
Last December, Utah and Northwestern met in the Holiday Bowl as losers of their conference title games. This month, the Utes have the mild comfort of being selected to the Pac-12′s top affiliated bowl below the Rose Bowl, plus the cachet that comes with playing one of college football’s best-known programs — “steeped in tradition,” as Utah coach Kyle Whittingham described Texas in a bowl announcement Sunday.
Herman, like Whittingham, is part of Urban Meyer's coaching tree. He worked as Meyer's offensive coordinator at Ohio State in 2012-14, before becoming Houston's coach and then moving to Texas, where he's 24-15 in three seasons.
The Longhorns have a quarterback-receiver tandem that will make the Alamo Bowl worth watching on New Year's Eve, as Utah's defense tries to make a better impression after allowing 37 points and 432 total yards to Oregon.
Cameron Rising transferred from Texas to Utah in January, recognizing that Ehlinger was entrenched as the Longhorns’ quarterback after Texas beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Rising will be competing in the spring to fill Tyler Huntley’s vacancy with the Utes, after impersonating Ehlinger in practice this month.
Rising will help prepare Utah’s defense to face a quarterback who has passed for 3,462 yards and 29 touchdowns. The scout team will have more trouble simulating receiver Devin Duvernay, who has 103 catches for 1,294 yards and eight touchdowns — including 12 receptions for 154 yards and two scores vs. LSU.
Informed of Duvernay's numbers, Ute safety Terrell Burgess said, “We've played against great receivers in the Pac-12, so it'll just be another challenge that we have every week.”
Duvernay presumably will be a good test for Utah junior cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who intends to enter the NFL draft. Duvernay, a senior, made the All-Big 12 first team, as did Texas offensive lineman Zach Shackelford. Another lineman, Samuel Cosmi, made the second team, joining defensive back Brandon Jones.
The All-Pac-12 team and individual awards will be announced Tuesday. The Utes will resume practicing Friday.
TALE OF TEXAS
Results in 2019 for Texas' football team:
Texas 45, Louisiana Tech 14.
LSU 45, Texas 38.
Texas 48, Rice 13.
Texas 36, Oklahoma State 30.
Texas 42, West Virginia 31.
Oklahoma 34, Texas 27.
Texas 50, Kansas 48.
TCU 37, Texas 27.
Texas 27, Kansas State 24.
Iowa State 23, Texas 21.
Baylor 24, Texas 10.
Texas 49, Texas Tech 24.