The Longhorns rank No. 20 in Athlon's Top 25 for 2018
Texas took a step forward in Tom Herman's first year as head coach, but certainly not as big as the one Longhorns fans were hoping for. The good news is Texas should be able to build upon last year's momentum, especially if Herman can work his magic on the offense. The defense more than did its part last season, but coordinator Todd Orlando must replace several key pieces to maintain that level of success. The talent is there for the Longhorns to contend in the Big 12, it's just a matter of putting all of the pieces together.
Previewing Texas Football's Offense for 2018
Surprisingly, the offense at Texas under first-year coach Tom Herman lost nearly a touchdown's worth of points per game - when you factor out the seven non-offensive TDs scored by the Horns in 2017 - from the previous year under Charlie Strong. Many of the struggles resulted from players being moved in and out of the lineup.
The starter at quarterback is likely to be sophomore Sam Ehlinger, who played well enough last year to secure fourth-quarter leads against USC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State - only to lose the games against USC and OSU, in part because of critical turnovers he committed in overtime.
Herman hopes the addition of offensive line coach Herb Hand from Auburn will improve the biggest problem position on last year's team. The arrival of Calvin Anderson, a grad transfer from Rice, will also help.
Leading receivers Collin Johnson and Lil' Jordan Humphrey return, but promising slot receiver and punt returner Reggie Hemphill-Mapps transferred. Productive sophomore running backs Daniel Young and Toneil Carter will be joined in fall camp by Keaontay Ingram, the No. 1 recruit at his position in the state of Texas. Herman also added competition and depth to the backfield this spring, landing California graduate transfer Tre Watson. He will push for Young, Carter and Ingram for the starting job this fall.
The return of fifth-year senior tight end Andrew Beck from a season-ending broken foot should help the run game as much as the passing game.
If the line can steadily improve under Hand, the offense has a chance to be much better.
Previewing Texas Football's Defense for 2018
Todd Orlando's defense was so good in 2017 - giving up just 21.2 points per game, leading the Big 12 in third-down defense and leading the nation in non-offensive touchdowns (seven) - that the Horns' defensive coordinator got a raise from $1.1 million to $1.7 million annually for the next three years. Good timing, because gone are linebacker Malik Jefferson (the Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year), defensive tackle Poona Ford (the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year), safety DeShon Elliott (a Thorpe Award finalist) and 6'3" corner Holton Hill, who scored three non-offensive touchdowns last season.
But Orlando still has some firepower in senior ends Breckyn Hager, an awards candidate, and Charles Omenihu as well as linebackers Gary Johnson and Malcolm Roach.
The secondary is loaded with talent thanks to a ridiculous defensive back recruiting haul, including the nation's No. 1 and No. 3 safety prospects for 2018 - Caden Sterns and B.J. Foster, both early enrollees. Texas also signed the nation's No. 6 safety prospect in DeMarvion Overshown and cornerbacks Jalen Green and Anthony Cook - both national top-100 players in the 247Sports Composite. Cook was an early enrollee and was already battling to get into the two-deep at corner.
Previewing Texas Football's Specialists for 2018
Replacing Ray Guy Award-winning punter Michael Dickson will be difficult, considering he pinned opponents inside the 20 a school-record 42 times last season. Texas will turn to Dickson's cousin, early enrollee freshman Ryan Bujcevski, who, like Dickson, is an import from Australia.
Texas improved from five to seven wins in Herman's first season. Getting to a bowl game was a nice first step. Herman also established a culture and added some elite talent in his first full recruiting class. To challenge Oklahoma for supremacy in the Big 12, the Horns will have to show significant improvement on offense and hope that Orlando's defense doesn't drop off too much despite key personnel losses.