No. 31 Texas
Texas has won 16 games the last three years, their lowest three-year total since 1991-93. They have a new head coach but much of the roster looks the same, with key players back at nearly every position, including quarterback.
Though they're much different jobs, expectations for Tom Herman are similar to those of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan two years ago: Immediate conference title contention and a playoff berth not far down the road.
2016 Record: 5-7 (3-6, Big 12)
The Longhorns' 2016 season will be forever engrained in the minds of Longhorn fans forever — for all the wrong reasons. They were supposedly "back" after beating 10th-ranked Notre Dame in a thrilling double-overtime season opener and, after starting 2-0, lost seven of their final 10 games, including a loss to lowly Kansas.
A few good things did happen last year, among them D'Onta Foreman's 2,000-yard season, development of freshman quarterback Shane Buechele and — although it came with a lot of pain — the dismissal of head coach Charlie Strong, who clearly was not the right fit at Texas.
Head Coach: Tom Herman (1st year)
Charlie Strong was brought to Austin to win championships. He couldn't even win seven games in a season. So Tom Herman was brought to Austin to win championships. And he knows if he can't do that, he'll be replaced just like Strong was.
"We'll win championships," Herman said during his introductory press conference last November. "We'll build men of character. We'll graduate our players. And we will do it all with integrity and class."
Herman was a Longhorns' grad assistant under Mack Brown from 1999-2000 and spent 11 of his first 17 years as a coach in Texas, most recently as head coach at Houston, where he went 22-4 in two years.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Shane Buechele, RB Chris Warren III, RB Kyle Porter, WR Devin Duvernay, WR Armanti Foreman, OT Connor Williams, G Patrick Vahe, C Zach Shackleford
After a strong freshman season, Shane Buechele is their starting quarterback. Except he's not — yet. He's the only Texas quarterback with any experience and took every rep with the first team during practice. Except he's not the starting quarterback — yet.
Bizarre, right? Not to Tom Herman.
"No way," said Herman after spring practice when asked if Buechele was named starter. "A healthy fear of losing your job is just that, healthy. Shane knows we have a lot of confidence in him … but to say he’s won the job in 12 padded practices when he doesn’t even get hit — that would be premature."
Buechele's 2,900-yard, 21-touchdown season wasn't always pretty — throwing off the back foot or into double coverage across the field — but he got it done more often than not.
No Texas receiver had more than 35 catches or 425 yards last year. While the passing attack was certainly balanced, they need a reliable big-play threat capable of catching 50 passes. That could be sophomore Devin Duvernay, who averaged more than 20 yards per catch as a freshman and will form a nice one-two punch with senior Armanti Foreman.
With Foreman's brother D'Onta leaving a year early for the NFL, they'll go back to Chris Warren, whose early-season injury opened the door for Foreman's monster season. But first Warren needs to get healthy. Regardless, sophomore Kyle Porter will have a big role.
“I worry about seeing him in full pads,” Herman said when asked if he's more concerned about Warren's weight (252 pounds) or pad level. “He missed the last three weeks of spring ball with a pulled hamstring, so I don’t know a whole lot what to worry about."
Up front, Connor Williams is the best in the business. The junior All-American tackle is playing for a top-10 spot in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Poona Ford, DE Malcolm Roach, DE Chris Nelson, LB Malik Jefferson, LB Anthony Wheeler, LB Breckyn Hager, CB P.J. Locke, CB Kris Boyd, S DeShon Elliott
New defensive coordinator Todd Orlando — who came with Herman from Houston — inherited a unit that struggled in just about every area that last two years despite boasting big-time talent.
“The one thing I’ve been impressed with, there’s a part of this group that is not resistant to the change we have in here,” Orlando said before spring practice.
The biggest change is being more responsibly aggressive in a 3-4 system that should give their linebackers more flexibility and opportunities for disruption. Malik Jefferson (below) and Breckyn Hager combined for 22.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks. Jefferson is moving outside, where he should be even better, and like Connor Williams, is playing for a high draft selection.
"He likes it, I know that," Herman said in April of Jefferson's move. "He is adjusting daily to the expectations of him playing with lower pad level, playing more aggressive, playing more physical – and he wants to."
The line is led by two upperclassmen in tackles Poona Ford and Chris Nelson and end Malcolm Roach, a widely overlooked three-star recruit who had eight tackles for loss as a true freshman.
Junior safety DeShon Elliott said he wants "opponents to be scared" of their secondary this season, that they're "going to come hit you in your mouth every play." He'll lead a group seeking more turnovers after ranking 60th nationally with 20 takeaways in 2016.
Notable Player Losses
RB D'Onta Foreman, OL Kent Perkins
Their two biggest losses both came on offense in running back D'Donta Foreman and Kent Perkins. Foreman entered the season with just 746 career rushing yards but exploded for 2,028 on a whopping 323 carries. The workhorse back averaged 6.3 yards per carry and had 15 touchdowns.
He can thank Perkins for much of that production. An all-conference lineman, Perkins started at both guard and tackle during his career.
Notable Player Additions
QB Sam Ehlinger, RB Toneil Carter, LB Gary Johnson
High school prospects Sam Ehlinger and Toneil Carter were dubbed the crown jewels of the Longhorns' 26th-ranked recruiting class. But JUCO linebacker Gary Johnson will have the biggest immediate impact. The No. 5 JUCO player in the nation and top linebacker, Johnson will either start Week 1 or play a ton of snaps.
There are few scheduling surprises in the Big 12 but it is notable they play three of four games on the road between late October and mid-November, a stretch that includes visits to TCU and West Virginia.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. Maryland|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. San Jose State|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||at USC|
|Thursday, Sept. 28||at Iowa State|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. Kansas State|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs. Oklahoma|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Oklahoma State|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at Baylor|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||at TCU|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. Kansas|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at West Virginia|
|Friday, Nov. 24||vs. Texas Tech|