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College Football Preview 2017-2018: 25. Texas Longhorns

25. Texas Longhorns

What magic will Tom Herman create in Year One in Austin?

  • Location: Austin, Texas
  • Conference: Big 12
  • Schedule
  • Roster
  • Coach: Tom Herman (first year)
  • Last Years Record: 5-7 (3-6 Big 12)
  • Bowl Result: None


It seems like ages ago that Texas seemed at the center of the college football universe, when Colt McCoy and Vince Young were leading them to new heights, players were heading to the NFL left and right, and their annual rivalry with Oklahoma often decided the Big 12. Since McCoy's final game in 2009, the Longhorns have gone an incredibly mediocre 46-43, have missed the postseason three times and suffered some horrendous defeats along the way. Needless to say that isn't going to get it done at a university with the resources like Texas, so the Longhorns opted to move on from Charlie Strong as head coach and bring in the hottest name in the coaching carousel, Tom Herman, who went 22-4 at Houston. Strong had some moments (beating Oklahoma in 2015, winning a thriller over Notre Dame to begin 2016) but his teams never really progressed despite consistently good recruiting. Can Herman change the culture in Austin after two consecutive 5-7 campaigns? He certainly has the talent to do so, but will have to endure some significant growing pains as a new chapter in Texas football begins.
Shane Buechele

Offense: Since McCoy left, the Longhorns have lacked a true, starting caliber QB, which is pretty amazing considering the amount of talent that comes out of their state every year. Names like Garrett Gilbert, Case McCoy (Colt's younger brother), David Ash and Tyrone Swoopes have all seen plenty of playing time but were never able to lead a Longhorn resurgence. It appears things could be changing, however, as sophomore Shane Buechele looks ready for a big 2017. Buechele overcame veterans Swoopes and Jerrod Heard to win the starting job last season and while he made plenty of mistakes, he impressed, throwing for 2,958 yards and 21 touchdowns. Buechele doesn't have elite arm strength, but he is very accurate and is great at improvising, constantly keeping plays alive with his legs and elusiveness. Herman has a great track record with quarterbacks (made Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett look like superstars as O-coordinator during Ohio State's 2014 National Championship run), and should help the youthful sophomore out. Texas loses their leading rusher from a season ago, D'Onta Foreman, which will be a tough pill to swallow. Foreman ran angry all of 2016, almost like he had something to prove, which helped him rack up 2,028 yards and 15 touchdowns. He really was the heart and soul of the Texas offense for a big chunk of '16, but new offensive coordinator Tim Beck shouldn't feel to worried. Back from injury, junior Chris Warren III should fill in just fine. Warren didn't see a lot of time last year but still managed to rush for 366 yards and runs with the same ferocity and power that made Foreman so successful. Expect sophomore Kyle Porter or freshman Toneil Carter to be used as change of pace options at running back as well. Another reason to feel good about Texas' offense in '17 is their receiving corps, which is their best they've had in a long time. It is a group blessed with plenty of experience (senior Armanti Foreman and junior John Burt) as well as youngsters ready to explode on to the scene (sophomores Devin Duvernay and Colin Johnson). Foreman is the Longhorns' returning receiving leader with 420 yards on 34 receptions last season and should be incredibly reliable, while Burt has been very good when healthy. Duvernay is a former ex-Baylor commit who has shown flashes of his game-breaking speed but is yet to put it all together. Another name to watch is Jerrod Heard, who is making the transition from QB to wide out. The junior has always impressed with his speed, but must show he can run routes and block, the real finer points of the position. At tight end, Texas is going to likely turn to senior Andrew Beck, a physical player with soft hands. The offensive line also returns a quality amount of experience, most notably All-American left tackle Connor Williams. The junior was terrific last year, and has also attracted plenty of attention from NFL scouts. Junior Patrick Vahe is an underrated piece to the puzzle at guard, while Zach Shackelford was impressive a year ago despite his youth. The right side of the unit is a possible concern with a number of position battles ongoing, including right tackle where sophomore Denzel Okafor might take over senior Brandon Hodges' spot after a superb spring. Another concern for the O-Line is depth; outside of the starters, there are very few members of the unit that have seen any significant action or are incoming freshman.
Malik Jefferson

Defense: Despite Charlie Strong's pedigree as a defensive coach, his defense struggled mightily over his tenure. New defensive coordinator Todd Orlando hopes that he can improve a defense that let up too many big plays and didn't get enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Expect Orlando to switch up Texas' 3-4 look and utilize an improving defensive line. Sophomore Malcolm Roach and defensive tackle Poona Ford are two big components to the unit. Roach is younger but an impressive athlete off the edge sure to wreak major havoc in '17, while Ford brings valuable experience and a proven run stopper up the middle. The rest of the front seven also brings plenty of upside and talent, which begins with junior Malik Jefferson. A former five-star recruit, Jefferson has had his moments but hasn't really put it all together. With the varying looks the Longhorns are likely to use, he'll get different opportunities to display his playmaking prowess and put together his finest season since coming to Austin. He will be aided by two other superb linebackers, outside linebacker Breckyn Hager and junior Anthony Wheeler. Hager had six sacks a season ago as a rotational piece, and could do even more damage as he takes over a starting role. Meanwhile, Wheeler is the Longhorns' top returning tackler (with 65 in 2016) and should continue to rack up tackles in the ultra-important middle linebacker spot. Another linebacker to watch is junior college transfer Gary Johnson, who could make the most immediate impact of the 2017 recruiting class. Johnson arrives from Dodge City Community College as a four-star prospect and he is sure to get an abundance of snaps at one of the inside linebacker positions. The biggest question mark on the entire Texas team is the secondary, which loses a number of key players from a group that allowed 258.5 yards per game last year, 105th in the nation. Junior cornerback Kris Boyd is going to have to play an important role; the strong-willed defender is expected to be UT's top corner, which will have a ton of responsibility guarding some of the dynamic wide outs in the pass-happy Big 12. Boyd started the final eight games of the season for UT in '16 and played pretty well, recording 51 tackles and five pass deflections, but he will still have to take some major steps for the pass defense to improve. The other cornerback spot is up for grabs, with plenty of talented options to fill in but none of them proven. Juniors Holton Hill and Davante Davis are considered the frontrunners, but don't be surprised if some newcomers compete for snaps. The safety positions are going through a transition as they must now endure life after Dylan Haines. Haines has been a staple in Texas' defensive backfield for years, and made 33 starts over his career, racking up 175 tackles and 13 interceptions along the way. Senior Jason Hall is the favorite to start at strong safety but wasn't great in the spring, while free safety is a wide-open competition.

Special Teams: Special teams can so often make a big difference in close games, which is why it was surprising how many close games UT dropped a year ago, despite having some great weapons at kicker and punter. Ray Guy Award finalist Michael Dickson returns for his junior season at the punter position and should play a huge role in the field-position battle, while JUCO transfer Joshua Rowland is expected to take over at kicker. In the return game, expect the ultra-versatile Jerrod Heard to handle both duties.

Even though there is a new name on the sidelines in Austin, there is no chance expectations will be dampened in 2017; this is a program that expects to compete for national championships every year. That may be slightly daunting for new head coach Herman, but the talent is there for this team to succeed. They have plenty of weapons offensively, and a quarterback that appears ready to lead this team to the next level. The defense will endure some serious growing pains but Orlando, now the Longhorns' highest-paid D-coordinator in their history, will be creative with his packages and how he uses some of the young guys. A tough non-conference slate where they see a rising Maryland team and a Top 5 USC team on the road will be precarious, as will an October three-week stretch that includes Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Even so, the Longhorns finally appear ready to turn the table and start returning to national relevancy. A Big 12 title may be a little bit too much to ask for at this point, but 9-10 wins and a respectable bowl would be solid progress in year one for Herman and his staff.

Player to Watch
Chris Warren III, RB
D'Onta Foreman was such a big part of the Texas offense that there is no way his presence won't be missed. However, his loss will be easier to swallow thanks to the return of a healthy Chris Warren. Warren started the first two games of the 2016 campaign and rushed for 366 yards on 62 attempts before suffering a season-ending injury. It was a deflating loss for a Texas team hoping the bulldozing back could continue to improve from a freshman year that saw him rush for 276 yards against Texas Tech, and break out a 91-year run where he absolutely shredded a number of defenders.

Five-Year Trend
2012: 9-4 (5-4 Big 12)*
2013: 8-5 (7-2 Big 12)*
2014: 6-7 (5-4 Big 12)*
2015: 5-7 (4-5 Big 12)
2016: 5-7 (3-6 Big 12)

*= Bowl game

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