The Longhorns rank No. 13 in Athlon's Top 25 for 2017.
After three straight losing seasons under Charlie Strong, Texas has turned to Tom Herman to turn the Longhorns around. Herman was 22-4 in two seasons at Houston and inherits plenty of talent that Strong left behind in Austin. However, there also is plenty of work to do on both sides of the ball, especially with a defense that gave up nearly 32 points and 450 yards per game last season. Herman’s certainly not starting over, but can he get the most out of his veteran roster in Year 1 to make Texas a legitimate threat in the Big 12?
Previewing Texas Football’s Offense for 2017
Texas is on its sixth offensive coordinator in six years. Let that sink in for a second as you stop wondering why the Longhorns have been largely irrelevant in college football since 2009.
But now it’s Tom Herman’s offense (being run by coordinator Tim Beck). And if Herman’s success as coordinator at Ohio State (a national title in 2014 with a third-string QB) and head coach at Houston (22–4 while averaging 38.2 points per game the past two seasons) is any indication, this could be a big year offensively for Texas.
The Longhorns have proven experience at quarterback (Shane Buechele), running back (Chris Warren III), receiver (Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay, Armanti Foreman and Jerrod Heard) as well as an offensive line with four returning starters, including All-America left tackle Connor Williams.
Buechele took every rep with the first team in the spring game and clearly outpaced UT’s only other scholarship QB — early enrollee freshman Sam Ehlinger. But Herman, relentlessly demanding as an offensive coordinator, was in no mood to anoint Buechele in April. “As far as Shane being the starter? No way,” Herman said during spring practice.
The biggest concern for this offense will be staying healthy, because it is painfully thin at quarterback, tight end and at some spots on the offensive line.
Previewing Texas Football’s Defense for 2017
Orlando is confident in his defensive line that features rising-star defensive end Malcolm Roach, strong-as-a-fire-hydrant nose tackle Poona Ford and gritty defensive end Chris Nelson.
Orlando loves the secondary, especially vocal, hard-hitting junior safety DeShon Elliott, blazing sophomore free safety Brandon Jones as well as junior, do-it-all nickel back P.J. Locke and physical junior cornerback Kris Boyd. The other cornerback spot features a battle of 6'3" juniors — Davante Davis and Holton Hill — who emerged as stars as freshmen, only to suffer sophomore slumps.
The biggest question mark may be at linebacker, where Orlando has a lot of talent to work with but just needs to put guys in the right roles.
Previewing Texas Football’s Specialists for 2017
Ray Guy Award finalist Michael Dickson returns at punter, and junior college transfer Joshua Rowland will handle the placekicking chores. The Longhorns struggled with both field goals and extra points last season. Receivers Foreman and Heard are leading candidates to return punts and kicks, respectively. The Longhorns have ranked ninth in the Big 12 in kickoff returns in each of the last four seasons and have not returned a kick for a touchdown since 2013.
Herman is 22–4 as a head coach and is 6–0 against teams ranked in the AP top 25. He may also be a master of timing. At Houston, he took over a veteran team coming off an eight-win season and went 13–1 in his first year.
Now, Herman takes over a Texas roster returning 37 of the 44 in the two-deep from last season, stocked with back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes under former coach Charlie Strong. On his way out, Strong said whoever was coaching the Longhorns in 2017 would win 10 games.
Texas fans can’t take any more hype, only to be let down again. But things may be set up for Texas and Herman to crash the Big 12 party this season thanks to UT’s veteran roster, including experienced offensive and defensive lines and a laser-accurate quarterback.
NATIONAL RANKING: 13
BIG 12 PREDICTION: 2
Don't forget to check out Athlon Sports' entire college football Top 25.