- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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With a nod to Pat Forde's annual March Madness dream and nightmare scenario piece, we've been coming up with the dream and nightmare scenarios for every Big 12 team. Of course, reality will fall somewhere in the middle. But imagine a season in which every single possible domino fell into place. And likewise, if all that could go wrong, well, did.
We continue with the Texas Longhorns:
Charlie Strong's team opens the season with a combination of disappointment and hope after a last second loss to Notre Dame. Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who won the starting job in preseason camp, plays well in the opening game running for a pair of scores and throwing for another as UT puts up 31 points but a last-second field goal sends the Longhorns back to Austin with a loss.
UT rallies with a easy win over Rice and a comfortable win over California to head into conference play with a 2-1 record. One interesting development during nonconference action is the play of backup quarterback Jerrod Heard, who shows flashes of big-time ability in the two home wins, sparking Strong to say he plans to use both quarterbacks in Big 12 play.
Strong keeps his promise in a win over Oklahoma State as both Swoopes and Heard account for touchdowns in a double-digit victory over the Cowboys. The following Saturday, neither quarterback can get it done as Gary Patterson and TCU force them into three combined turnovers to hand UT a second loss.
Looking for inspiration, Strong invites Matthew McConaughey to speak with the team for a second time.
McConaughey's words work and Strong gets his first Red River Showdown win over Oklahoma the following week. Swoopes is stellar with an efficient and productive day which includes 350 yards in total offense and two touchdowns while Heard's long touchdown run in the third quarter completely changes the momentum of the game. Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway is simply too much for OU's offensive line to handle, recording four tackles for loss as he dominates.
The victory sparks three straight wins -- over Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas -- as the Longhorns seem to find a rhythm to start the second half of the season.
It falls apart the following week as Swoopes has his worst start of the year, struggling throughout the first half at West Virginia and forcing Strong to turn to Heard with a 24-point halftime deficit. Heard sparks a rally, pulling the Longhorns within a touchdown but a silly decision to throw into coverage on UT's final drive helps WVU survive and drops the Longhorns to 7-3.
Strong names Heard the permanent starter the following Monday and the redshirt freshman leads UT to a win over Texas Tech.
Revenge is sweet the following week as Texas rolls into McLane Stadium and leaves with a win and Baylor's dreams of a three-peat in its back pocket. Heard plays his best game of his young career, accounting for 400 yards and five touchdowns while Ridgeway is a monster in the middle, yet again, to help force a pair of key BU turnovers.
After the game the Longhorns can't help themselves with "Welcome back to reality" and "Order has been restored" among the postgame comments from various players. The comments take the Twitter beef between the two schools to another level. Kevin Durant even gets involved, posting a picture of him dunking on Ekpe Udoh to his social media accounts with the hashtag "BeTheStandard."
UT's 9-3 record earns them a Alamo Bowl trip which sees them knock off Arizona State to earn Strong's first 10-win season on the 40 acres.
The Longhorns head into the offseason with a established sophomore quarterback and eyes on winning a Big 12 title in 2016.
UT's trip to South Bend, Indiana, does not turn out well. Swoopes starts and struggles, turning the ball over three times in the first half. Heard gets a shot in the second half and fares no better with two turnovers of his own. The five-turnover performance results in a three-touchdown defeat and sends the Longhorns home with a blowout loss and even more uncertainty around the quarterback position.
Strong's team recovers with wins over Rice and California but largely thanks to a pair of 100-yard performances from Johnathan Gray as the uncertainty under center remains.
The one-dimensional offense handcuffs the entire team as Big 12 play opens. OSU runs away from UT as its offense can't keep up with Mason Rudolph and the Pokes, Trevone Boykin's five touchdowns help TCU cruise to hand the Longhorns another loss then Oklahoma simply overwhelms UT in the Red River Showdown as Samaje Perine and Sterling Shepard take turns making big plays.
Somewhere McConaughey cries.
When Strong sends a invitation for him to come speak to the team again, McConaughey declines, stating:
"My life is the road, man. I need to keep moving."
Things start to turn around a little bit the following week as Swoopes plays his best game of the season in a win over K-State. A pair of wins over ISU and KU gets things back on track. Somewhat.
A trip to Morgantown sends things back downhill has Swoopes struggles again and the Longhorns decide to turn to Heard permanently. The Mountaineers put up 53 points on a weary and inexperienced defense sparking Strong to say "We might just go all freshman the rest of the way. These vets don't seem to want it."
His passion works on Thanksgiving as the Longhorns eek out a one-point win over Texas Tech as Jefferson's fourth-quarter interception puts the Longhorns in position for a game-winning field goal.
The season finale is unkind as BU hammers the Longhorns and enjoys every minute of it, turning the fourth quarter into a holiday party. Heard has a particularly tough game as a forced fumble by Shawn Oakman becomes the lasting image of his redshirt freshman season and the Longhorns season as a whole.
UT declines a return trip to the Texas Bowl as Strong insists the time would be better utilized on the recruiting trail. The Longhorns head into the offseason with a 6-6 record and more uncertainty under center than they began with.