The Longhorns are hoping a return to prominence will come under a new head coach.
The college football season is rapidly approaching with the anticipation building as each day passes. Here at SQ we’ve got something that will hold you over for the time being. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out previews of the teams in our top-25. Today we take a look at No. 21 Texas.
Team Name: Texas Longhorns
2016 Record and Rank: 5-7 (NR)
Coach: Tom Herman (First year, 22-4 at Houston)
Key Arrivals: LB Gary Johnson, RB Toneil Carter, QB Sam Ehlinger, DE Ta’quon Graham, WR Damion Miller
Key Departures: RB D’Onta Foreman, QB Tyrone Swoopes, S Dylan Haines
Previewing Texas’ Offense
The Longhorn offense was much improved between 2015 and 2016. After being ranked 100th in the nation in total yards at 4,449, Texas improved to 37th with 5,895 total yards. Most of that production came from running back D’Onta Foreman, who finished with the second most rushing yards in the country with 2,028 yards. That’s some major production that new head coach Tom Herman has to replace.
An immediate replacement for Foreman isn’t clear, but there should be plenty of competition. Chris Warren III was second in rushing yards with 366 and third in touchdowns with three, but missed most of the season with a knee injury and has been banged up through spring practice. Kyle Porter is the next best option and finished 2016 with 206 yards without a score. Freshman Toneil Carter could come in and shake things while Herman tries multiple options to find the right fit.
Quarterback Shane Buechele had about as good a start to his college career as one could hope. As a true freshman he threw for 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions he showed promise to lead the Longhorns to the success they’ve long been missing. Buechele won’t have much competition to start since the only other quarterback on their roster is freshman Sam Ehlinger.
The wide receiving core is easily the deepest position on offense. The Longhorns return their top three receivers, Armanti Foreman, Devin Duvernay, and Dorian Leonard who combined for 83 receptions, 1,229 yards, and nine touchdowns. Sophomores Collin Johnson and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey should also have a great shot at gaining attention from Buechele.
Previewing Texas’ Defense
Big 12 teams are known for explosive offenses, but their defenses lack any consistency and Texas is no difference. The Longhorns gave up 5,379 yards (36th most) and 31.5 points per game (tied for 38th most). Despite their shortcomings, this defense still has tons of talent to work with and with Todd Orlando coming over from Houston with Herman they have the right coaches in place to get the most out of their talent.
Texas returns 10 starters and the strength lies within their linebacking core. The team’s top three tacklers, all linebackers, return with the star being Malik Jefferson, one of the countries best inside linebackers. Jefferson played on the outside last season and had an up-and-down season, but still managed 60 tackles and 6.5 sacks. He will go back to the inside and let Anthony Wheeler and Breckyn Hager roam on the outside.
The secondary managed 10 interceptions, four of those from former safety Dylan Haines, but they shouldn’t have an issue replacing his contribution. The real question mark for Orlando’s defense will be up front. Texas gave up 200 or more rushing yards five times last season and got run over by TCU in the season finale. Houston was fourth against the run last season under Orlando and he should be able bring that same fire to Austin. If everything falls into place, Texas should keep pace in the gun-slinging Big 12.
Three Key Games
1. Sept. 16th at USC- Coach Herman made a statement last season by leading Houston to a win against powerhouse Oklahoma in the opening weekend, and will look to make another statement win with his new team. Texas should head to Los Angeles sporting a 2-0 record and have their first true test against a very good USC team. Buechele will have to go toe-to-toe with Sam Darnold and hopefully get some help from the defense. The Longhorns will need a near perfect game to take the next step in development and steal a win from the Trojans.
2. Oct. 14th vs Oklahoma-It wouldn’t be a respectable preview without mentioning the Red River Showdown. It’s one of the best rivalries in college football that dates back to 1900, with it being an annual event since 1929. Texas leads the all-time series 61-45-5, but Oklahoma got the best of the Longhorn in 2016 with a 45-40 win. If Texas wants to rise back to the top of the Big 12, a win over their biggest rival is a must.
3. Oct. 21st vs. Oklahoma State- Just a week after facing the Sooners, Texas gets no rest and will host Oklahoma State. The Cowboys rank 11th in the initial AP Polls and will be a dark horse in the Big 12 race. Quarterback Mason Rudolph will be just a difficult to stop as USC’s Darnold and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. Herman will have his guys ready to rebound after Oklahoma, whether they win or lose.
On paper this team is talented, experienced, and should make a legitimate run at the Big 12 title. Former coach Charlie Strong built this roster but Herman is the guy to bring the best out of them. 2,000 yards is hard to replace on offense, but Buechele should be up to the task and take pressure off the running game. On the defensive side all the pieces should come together. Orlando is a fantastic defensive coordinator and the linebacking core is one of the best in the country.
Texas will have to start off strong against a decent Maryland team and also finish strong on the road against Baylor, TCU, and West Virginia. Overall I see the Longhorns finishing with a 8-4 record. Fans are tired of hearing the hype and being let down year after year, but this may be the start of living up to the hype.
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