After Texas beat Kansas 24–17 to clinch a spot in its first Big 12 championship game since 2009, Tom Herman said something that might have made some fans wonder if they heard him correctly.
“We’re overachieving,” the Longhorns’ second-year head coach said. “There’s some really good teams in this league. Really good teams. That team we just played had been in pretty much every ball game.”
He’s not wrong about that last part. Despite Kansas recently firing David Beaty and replacing him with Les Miles, the Jayhawks beat TCU, kept it close against West Virginia, and didn’t just put up 40 points on Oklahoma, but averaged 9.7 yards per carry and racked up 524 total yards.
Texas avoided a near colossal upset, getting out of Lawrence with a win on Friday afternoon. Now the Horns will wait to find out their opponent by watching the Friday night matchup between Oklahoma and West Virginia.
The Longhorns’ path to their first conference championship game in nearly a decade was anything but smooth. It included the resignation of Mack Brown in 2013, three years of Charlie Strong, and some bumps early in Herman’s tenure. This year started with a road loss to Maryland (for a second consecutive season), but the team regrouped and won six straight games, including consecutive wins over USC and TCU (back then, they were ranked in the top 25) and a thrilling 48–45 victory over rival Oklahoma. Texas skyrocketed into the top 10 after beating the Sooners.
The good vibes quickly came to a halt when coordinator Todd Orlando’s defense failed to show up in Stillwater on Oct. 27. Oklahoma State handed Texas its first Big 12 loss that night, piling up more than 500 yards of offense as Cowboys quarterback Taylor Cornelius had three passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns. Texas tried to prove that was all an anomaly the following week when it hosted Will Grier and West Virginia in Austin. And it came close to doing just that, until Grier threw a 33-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds left and then converted a two-point conversion to win by one point.
West Virginia ended up helping Texas out a few weeks later though, when it fell victim to Oklahoma State in Stillwater, too. All the Mountaineers needed to do to make the end of the regular season easy was beat the Cowboys last week to clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game. Thanks to that loss—and Texas’s win over Iowa State—the Longhorns just needed to beat Kansas to play for the conference title. The Jayhawks didn’t make it easy, making a late fourth-quarter push, which included recovering an onside kick with 3:27 to play.
“All you gotta do is win by one,” Herman said after the close win.
Texas fans are impatient and it’s been a long road back to the top of the conference. For what it’s worth, the Longhorns’ three losses this season have been by a combined nine points. Now, they’ve put themselves in position to win the Big 12 and go to the Sugar Bowl. It might feel weird for a fan base with the high expectations this one has to hear Herman say his team is “overachieving” for making it to the league title game. But for the first time in a long time, it appears someone has things moving in the right direction.