The Texas Longhorns ended a generally lackluster 2017 season on a high note, beating former Big 12 foe Missouri in a Texas Bowl grudge match, 33-16. The Texas Bowl certainly wasn’t UT’s preferred postseason destination back in August, but capping the season with a win gave the program some positive momentum heading into the second offseason of head coach Tom Herman’s tenure.
Aside from a confidence-building win, the Longhorns do have more tangible reasons to believe 2018 will be an improvement over the prior year. For starters, the team lost four games by less than a touchdown, a sign that Texas was close to being far better than a 7-6 team.
Here are three more factors working in the Longhorns’ favor as they look for growth in the upcoming season.
1. Todd Orlando’s back
Using a surplus of defensive talent left from Charlie Strong’s three-year run at Texas, Orlando coordinated what probably turned into the best defense in the Big 12 by the end of the season. The Longhorns played an attacking brand of D under Orlando’s watch that leveraged a ball-hawking secondary to neutralize opposing receivers and force 26 turnovers for the year.
SMU reportedly looked at Orlando to fill the head coaching vacancy left when Chad Morris departed for Arkansas. Even though the Mustangs eventually settled on Sonny Dykes to fill the opening, their interest and the rising tide of salaries for hotshot coordinators will apparently net Orlando a healthy raise and at least another year in Austin.
2. More clarity at quarterback
Injuries and inconsistency caused the starting quarterback position at Texas to bounce back and forth between Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger (above, right) for the entirety of 2017. By the end of the season, however, it seemed that the offense responded better to the freshman Ehlinger. Although Buechele started the Texas Bowl, Ehlinger played the entire second half, ending the game with 11 completions on 15 pass attempts for 112 yards and a touchdown.
Herman may leave the quarterback competition open into the fall, but Ehlinger looks like the guy as of now.
3. Getting comfortable
Conventional wisdom holds that college football teams often make a big leap between a new coaching regime’s first and second seasons. The thinking goes that both the coaches and players spend year one feeling each other out. By the end of that first season, the two sides find their grooves.
Herman and his coaching staff brought a new culture and personality to Texas football in 2017 after three years with Strong at the helm. By this point, the awkwardness of that transition should be over.
It might not mean a conference title, but having a better grasp of everything from the schemes to expectations will help ease some of the first-year friction this time around. At the very least, the ride should be a little smoother for the Longhorns this year.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.