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Golden: Herman heads into offseason as a winner

One thing Tom Herman said after the Texas Bowl win stood above everything else.

“It’s really important for these guys to call themselves winners.”

Perception is huge in college football: from the voters who determine the national rankings to the athletes you’re fighting to recruit to ultimately, the people who decide which four teams will play in the College Football Playoff at the end of the season.

Those three straight losing seasons under Charlie Strong have been thrown out. What matters now is Herman can walk into living rooms in this state and talk about a program that is headed the right direction after a winning season and a bowl victory. He can mention those swanky lockers and the new workout facility that were fashioned on his watch while also talking about those handful of players Longhorns that just left for the pros, even if he didn’t recruit them.

Perception. A 7-6 record may not seem like much, but compared to the 16-21 of 2014 through 2016, it’s huge.

Looking ahead, times may get tough over there in 2018 since the defense will be missing Malik Jefferson, DeShon Elliott, and Holton Hill, while the offense will trudge on without All-American tackle Connor Williams.

And let’s not forget punter Michael Dickson, who will go down as the biggest weapon to play for the 2017 Texas Longhorns.

It bears a striking resemblance to Strong’s 2014 team, his first which lost a bevy of players to the NFL. The biggest difference is that team finished 6-7. Herman managed to get out of there with a winning record.

For now, the Horns are back on the winning side of things.

We’ll see if Coach Mensa can follow up with another step forward. He’ll have to get get more out of the quarterback position, that’s for certain. Next season brings with it a new set of challenges. Herman can meet them with the assurance that he won in his first year.

I told my coworkers three weeks ago that it wouldn’t surprise me if Jefferson announced his decision to turn pro on the Players’ Tribune. I figured he would do it with the written word but he decided video would be better.

Jefferson has something in common with Texas freshman forward Mo Bamba in that his best ball didn’t come at Texas. Just like Mo, Malik will blossom in the pros as an outside linebacker. In the right situation, he could a contributor similar to Texas legend Derrick Johnson or Tampa Bay speedster LaVonte David. He’s a four-down player whose speed will allow him to make up for any youthful mistakes that will come up.

Most important, Jefferson’s great character will help him immensely on the next level. He’s one of the smartest, most level-headed players to come through here. With the right guidance in the pros, he will be a 10-year player.

While Shaka Smart’s Texas men’s team has mastered the art of the hanging in with top-10 teams early in the season — they’re close to breaking through if Bamba’s dominance on both ends against Kansas is any indication — the women are on the verge of something special in 2018. Nothing says that a program is breaking through than big wins on the road and the Karen Aston’s team has already taken a big one over Oklahoma followed by a home win over ninth-ranked West Virginia.

It’s not too early to point to the massive showdown on January 15 here against UConn, followed by another against Baylor 10 days later. Do I really need to mention that that the Huskies are unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the country? Same stuff, different year, except that they aren’t the defending national champion for the first time in four seasons.

As for Texas (11-1), Aston is getting production from all over, a sure sign that the Horns are a great pick to make it to the Final Four later in the spring, that is, if they stay healthy.

Dak Prescott is the second coming of Alex Smith, just in a bigger package.

He’s never going to be an Aaron Rodgers or a Tom Brady but he has the talent to be in the mode of mid-level game managers like Smith and Andy Dalton.

Prescott spoiled Cowboys Nation when he unofficially pushed Tony Romo into retirement with that sparkling 23-touchdown-four-interception debut in 2016, but the dropoff in his sophomore year — he threw one less TD and nine more picks — has to be viewed through the prism of Ezekiel Elliott missing six games due to that suspension.

Prescott won’t provide Romo type numbers in his career but with a healthy Elliott behind that offensive line, the turnovers won’t be a huge factor. With Elliott around for 16 games in 2017, Dak will go back to being the Dak from his rookie year.

The bigger question moving forward is if Elliott will mature into a pro off the field and not go down he same road that prematurely derailed the careers of some other talented players.

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