AUSTIN, Texas (AP) The Texas Longhorns are expected to play in a bowl game, something that looked like a long shot a month ago when they were 3-5 after a shutout loss at Kansas State.
Now a three-game surge has first-year coach Charlie Strong predicting the bad times are over at Texas (6-5), not just this season, but for the long term.
Another five-loss season ''will never happen in this program again,'' Strong said Monday.
That's a strong statement from the coach of a team that could still finish 6-7 if it can't upset No. 5 TCU on Thanksgiving and loses the bowl game the players fought so hard to get to. And check out Texas' history over the last 29 years: 14 seasons of five or more losses, including four of the last five years.
But a winning streak behind one of the Big 12's best defense has clearly eased some of the pressure on Strong, who until now was most notable for the tough discipline that led to suspensions or dismissals of several players for rules violations or arrests.
A month ago, Texas walked off the field after a 23-0 loss at Kansas State, Texas' first shutout defeat since 2004, looking like a team spiraling into disaster.
''At 2-4 and 3-5, I was like `Who are we going to beat?''' Strong said.
Turns out it was Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State. The Longhorns controlled all three games, winning each by at least 17 points. Last week's 28-7 win at Oklahoma State put Texas above .500 for the first time since a season-opening win over North Texas.
''I said to the coaching staff, we're not coaching hard enough. The talent is here. Coach (Mack) Brown left us some really outstanding players. It was all about us getting connecting with the seniors,'' Strong said.
Now the question is not if Texas will get to a bowl, but where and who the Longhorns will play. The most striking possibility is a potential matchup with old rival Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 29, a game that pits the Big 12 against the SEC.
One of college football's oldest rivalries broke up when the Aggies left the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season and Texas administrators have publicly dismissed the chance of putting the game back on the schedule in the regular season.
''Whoever we play in the bowl game, we'll be happy,'' Strong said. ''It's just all about TCU right now
Strong also dismissed any suggestion he could be a candidate for the Florida job. Strong is a former Florida defensive coordinator and won a national championship with the Gators before taking his first head coaching job at Louisville before the 2010 season.
''I have a great job here'' at Texas, Strong said.