Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Texas Longhorns
The Charlie Strong era at Texas never fully got off the ground, nor was it ever really given the fuel to do so. Not everyone in the administration stood fully behind Strong, and it showed from day one. The new Tom Herman era begins, and the support level is a complete 180 degree turn from where it was under Strong. Everyone is all in on Herman, who was largely the hottest coaching target in the nation, which is debatable as to why he was after winning just nine games at Houston in a season in which the Cougars were largely expected to be a potential playoff buster. Herman has stormed into Austin with a ton of bluster, but he has to produce on the field now, and that may be easier said than done.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The foundation of any good offense starts with the line, and four starters return this fall in Brandon Hodges, Zach Shackleford, Patrick Vahe, and Connor Williams. In short, the Horns could have one fo the most experienced lines in the Big 12 coming back, which could be a platform to boost them higher than fifth in the league, which is where I have them spotted at.
At QB, Shane Buechele returns after a freshman season that showed occasional flashes of brilliance. He passed for 2958 yards and 21 TDs, while he rushed for another two scores. Buechele completed 60.4% of his passes, and averaged 32.6 pass attempts per game. He finished the season with 246.5 yards passing per game, and all of his numbers were what I would call completely acceptable and uplifting for any freshman.
Buechele should be a happy guy, if he keeps the job (more on that in a moment), as 10 of his top 11 receivers return to action this fall. Armanti Foreman and Dorian Leonard were listed in Spring ball as the returning starters. They combined to post 63-817-6 on the year last season. Devin Duverney, Jake Oliver, Collin Johnson, Jerrod Heard, John Burt, and Lorenzo Joe all return as well to give the Horns one of the deepest receiving groups in the nation.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
There are only three QBs on the spring roster listed, and that could be a very big problem if Buechele gets injured, but even worse, Buechele is being pushed by new head coach Tom Herman in favor of incoming freshman Sam Ehlinger, who is out of the famed Westlake area of Texas. That battle was allowed to rage in spring ball, and may continue into the fall as Herman pushes his guy, rather than the established starter.
The run game has got to improve on some levels. D'Onta Foreman was responsible for a huge chunk of yards, but he has moved on to the NFL, and the most experienced returning back is Chris Warren, who carried 62 times as the backup last fall. Kyle Porter and Tristian Houston return as well, but combined for just 49 carries as freshmen last season.
A new PK must be found as Trent Dominique moves on after a largely up and down senior season.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The defense could show the most improvement of any unit in the Big 12 this fall, as ten total starters return, as do 23 letter winners from last year's team.
Three starters return up front in Poona Ford, Chris Nelson, and Charles Omenihu. Ford finished with 54 tackles and 5.5 TFLs last fall. Nelson Finished with 45 tackles and six TFLs, while Omenihu finished with 26 tackles and 3.5 TFLs. D'Andre Christmas, Jordan Elliott, Malcolm Roach, and Geald Wilbon all return to give the Horns considerable on field rotational depth.
Three starters return at LB, but none of the three had a complete season in 2016. Naashon Hughes, Malik Jefferson, and Anthony Wheeler will all be back, but they combined for 23 starts, with Jefferson's nine being the group high. Wheeler led the team with 66 tackles, while Jefferson finished with 62. Roach collected 33 tackles on the year. Edwin Freeman, Breckyn Hager, Jeffrey McCulloch, and Cameron Townsend also return. Hager collected 64 tackles, while Freeman added 48.
Four starters will return in the secondary as well for the Longhorns in John Bonney (nine PBUs), Kris Boyd (51 tackles), Jason Hall (52 tackles, 4.5 for loss), and PJ Locke (33 tackles, two INTs). five other members of the secondary who lettered last fall also return.
Michael Dickson, one of the best punters in the nation last season, returns after gaining 47.37 yards per punt on the year. He averaged 256 yards per game on 5.4 punts per contest.
What To Be concerned About: Defense
On paper, there should not be much to worry about, as only one defensive line position is up for battle in camp. Where I am concerned is, despite returning so much depth, this is still a unit that allowed 31.5 points per game last season, and there were so many contributors that did not get in full season due to injuries or other matters. There needs to be some serious consistency this season, which is something that has been lacking for some time. If this unit can get themselves together as a cohesive team, there should be major improvements coming about, and Texas could emerge as a dark horse early on in the season from this side of the football alone. I would expect a new energy out of this group, and if that happens, look out, but if they fail to gel collectively, this could turn into another train wreck.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Maryland, 9/9 San Jose State, 9/16 at USC, 9/28 at Iowa State, 10/7 Kansas State, 10/14 Oklahoma at Dallas, 10/21 Oklahoma State, 10/28 at Baylor, 11/4 at TCU, 11/11 at Kansas, 11/18 at West Virginia, 11/24 Texas Tech
The Longhorns are now in serious put up or shut up territory as they try to wrap up an era of complete incompetence all the way around their athletic department. Mack Brown left nothing in the cupboard when he was let go, and Charlie Strong was largely aloud to just flounder with limited support. Enter Tom Herman, who Texas largely put every effort into hiring, and now we are expecting to see real change. The thing, for me, is that I am not entirely a true believe in Herman as of yet. I saw him do some decent things at Houston, but let's face it it, the program was not that bad when he took it over, and he never stayed there long enough to put his own real stamp on anything, and he severely under performed in 2016, when everything was on the line, as he had an eye for the outside the minute that Houston was not given an invite into the Big 12. Herman has certainly flown onto the scene with a level of bluster that I have rarely seen, but that outs a larger target on his back right away. Recruiting is flying up the boards, but Texas is finally in the place where they need to get it done on the field. The schedule, after the opening two weeks, is fairly serious in conference play, and the USC game on the road should really give us a picture as to what we can expect come November. Herman has his dream job, now let's see how he runs with it.