The embattled Texas coach probably needs three more wins, at minimum, to survive in Austin. A look at the remaining schedule shows how difficult that's going to be.
One of Mack's greatest failures over the last two years was dropping consecutive games to Baylor and Oklahoma State, both of which have been rectified this season. His other failure, humiliation at the hands of Bob Stoops in front of a national audience, was already more or less the norm so it's apparently been excused again by athletic director DeLoss Dodds. At least for now.
There remains five games on the schedule, and only one victory before Texas is bowl eligible, so what exactly does Mack Brown need to accomplish to avoid being jettisoned from the hot seat? I don't think bowl eligibility is going to cut it, although even that accomplishment is not a given with this defense, but with another 8 or 9 win season devoid of further humiliation, Mack could probably escape this season and let Diaz burn for the disappointing results this year.
The route to eight wins with the remaining schedule could prove difficult for Texas and it goes as follows:
@ Texas Tech
@ Kansas State
Since electoral maps are all the rage these days let's discuss the best path to eight wins for Texas this year. To begin with, they need three victories and only have two home games remaining. For Mack to survive the buyout clause that will change in January on his contract, they'll need to avoid losing to either TCU or Iowa St. at DKR.
Already we have a problem. While neither of these teams are particularly strong, they both feature strong defenses and run games that involve the QB. Because Texas has yet to hold a BCS conference foe below six yards per carry, every game against a team with a competent running attack has to be considered a toss-up.
So far this season, Texas has defeated four solid foes and three of them (West Virginia, Baylor, Ole Miss) did not feature strong defensive play, enabling Texas to win shootouts. Neither TCU nor Iowa St. will yield points as easily as those clubs. Iowa St is giving up 5 yards per play and TCU is giving up 5.2, for comparison's sake the Texas defense is yielding 6.6 yards per play.
Fortunately for Mack, the Iowa St. offense is usually more inept than the opposing offense, and there's a good chance that Texas' offense can carry them through that game in front of a friendly crowd. The TCU game is a far greater challenge with a young and rapidly improving Horned Frog defensive squad.
The road games begin with conference doormat Kansas but here we see the potential for struggle as well. Charlie Weiss knows how to build a power running game and has utilized dual-threat QB Michael Cummings and running back James Sims to give Kansas a running package that is sure to give Texas some trouble. After Baylor's fairly simple run game featuring Glasco Martin and Nick Florence went for 255 yards against the Texas defense there is simply no telling what this Kansas tandem might do on a cool night in Lawrence.
Then there's the fact that Dave Campo's Jayhawk defense only surrendered 20 points to Oklahoma State playing in this environment. Charlie Weiss and his staff have that team playing with a lot of pride and physicality that is a perfect foil for this Texas team.
So within the three games that present the easiest path to eight victories we see several potential landmines. It's almost not even worth discussing the prospects of Texas going into Lubbock or Manhattan and securing victory against those squads, but let's just suffice to say that Texas Tech is playing well, Lubbock is a difficult place to play, and Kansas St. could have been designed in a lab to destroy Mack Brown teams and not been more effective at doing so.
The key for Mack's season and future is David Ash. The sophomore QB has thrown for 1663 yards at 8.4 yards per attempt, 12 touchdowns and, most importantly, only three interceptions. Texas' ability to supplement the running game with passes, sustain drives on 3rd down, and hold onto the ball has all been the result of Ash's spectacularly solid play throughout the year.
A game where Ash turns the ball over and plays poorly is a certain blowout defeat for Texas against most of these teams, as Texas fans should have little faith of the defense doing much in the way of making stops against the remaining slate of opponents. In other words, Mack's formula for having a team that wasn't dependent upon heroics by the QB has been a dismal failure.
Texas doesn't have the OL yet to pound the ball up the middle against the protests of the league's stouter defensive fronts, so the team's victories revolve around Ash making things happen in the passing game and keeping Texas in the game until the running game can find lanes.
Should Ash manage to find three victories in the remaining slate of games, and help Texas secure their first win against a top 25 opponent in nine attempts, there may be some program momentum to keep Mack Brown around to plug in another option at defensive coordinator and see if the Ash-led 2013 Texas offense can contend nationally.
This is Mack's great hope to be able to make a pitch like: "Look, we won nine games, we beat up (insert mediocre Big 10 team) in the Alamo Bowl, and if you allow me to find a defensive coach that will get our boys playing up to snuff this offense is gonna be good enough to win us one more championship, then I'll step aside."
The "let's see what Texas can do with senior-laden OL and Junior David Ash" charade would then proceed to a classic 10-2 season with a defeat against Oklahoma and a late season loss in a game that might have enabled Texas to fit into the BCS picture.
Unfortunately for Mack, this team has no answers on defense and the formula that has enabled Texas to reach five wins was dependent on outscoring West Virginia and Baylor teams that play comparably atrocious defense. Against the remaining in-state and northern squads on the schedule, the ability to pick apart atrocious secondaries will quickly cease to be a viable strategy for victory and the inability to dominate the trenches will result in Ash having a few bad games trying to carry Mack's legacy on his still young shoulders.
The Texas Longhorns will drop at least three more games including a blowout loss or two and a Thanksgiving game defeat that further shames Mack Brown and initiates a difficult decision for the Texas Longhorn's athletic department.