Year one under new head coach Tom Herman found the Texas Longhorns revamping their program after three years of disappointment from Charlie Strong’s regime. Amid some signs of hope, an uninspiring 7-6 campaign in Tom Herman’s first season can be forgiven.
On the other hand, the 2017 edition of the ‘Horns didn’t offer many reasons to believe national championships are right around the corner. Their wins primarily came from the middle and lower tiers of the Big 12. Even in a season-capping win over Missouri in the Texas Bowl, UT was outgained by more than 100 yards.
With six starters returning on each side of the ball, the Longhorns should be able to take a few steps forward in 2018. If Herman has Texas on the right track, it should pay off in a couple more wins this season. Athlon asked a few editors and college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for the Longhorns in 2018.
Texas Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The Big 12 is wide open after Oklahoma, so the opportunity is there for Texas to take another step forward in coach Tom Herman’s second season. Once again, the Longhorns aren’t without question marks. Texas ranked seventh in the Big 12 in scoring offense last year and heads into 2018 looking for more out of its line and ground game. Sophomore Sam Ehlinger (above, right) is poised for a breakout season but he needs more help from the supporting cast.
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is one of the best in college football and returns six starters from a unit that limited opponents to 21.2 points a game last fall. Orlando has a few holes to fill, but this group should rank among the Big 12’s best once again. Despite the lackluster offense last season, it’s worth noting Texas lost five games by 10 points or less, including games to Oklahoma and USC. With better production out of this unit and continued standout play from the defense, the Longhorns could easily flip a couple of close losses into wins. With West Virginia, Iowa State and TCU visiting Austin, Herman and Texas have the schedule to push for a 9-3 or 10-2 finish.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Tom Herman's second Texas team has a high ceiling and a low floor, in my opinion. Basically, nothing would surprise me; I can envision this team threatening Oklahoma for the Big 12 title or finishing as low as sixth or seventh in the Big 12. (Yes, I know that's not exactly the boldest of statements.) The defense should be rock solid again. If the offense can identify some playmakers at the skill positions, there's no reason the Horns can't win eight or nine games. The key to the season could be how well Texas takes care of business on the road. The Horns play teams that we have picked seventh (Kansas State), ninth (Texas Tech) and 10th (Kansas) in the league on the road. They probably need to win all three if they want to contend.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
This is the year that Texas is... almost back. I think all the offseason work on and off the field that Tom Herman has been putting his team through will really start to take hold, especially when it comes to more consistency on offense. One of the two QBs will eventually take over and run with the role and even with some key pieces gone, DC Todd Orlando is one of the best around. It might not be quite enough in the end to get back to the Big 12 title game but the Longhorns should be a top-20-caliber team for most of 2018.
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism)
A year ago, Texas fielded a defense that could keep it in games and an offense that could lose them. The Longhorns held the potent attacks of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech well below their season scoring averages, but their sputtering offense failed to capitalize in the four defeats in Big 12 play.
Innovative defensive coordinator Todd Orlando inherited a strong and experienced crop of defenders from Strong. However, replicating last year’s success could prove difficult after losing the team’s four best defenders in defensive lineman Poona Ford, linebacker Malik Jefferson, cornerback Holton Hill and safety DeShon Elliot. In particular, UT’s secondary appears headed for at least a minor regression in ‘18.
If Texas does take a step back on D, that will put even more pressure on Tom Herman and coordinator Tim Beck to crank up the offense. They are counting on new offensive line coach Herb Hand to whip the big uglies up front into shape. That would pave the way for freshman Keaontay Ingram and California graduate transfer Tre Watson to solidify an unreliable ground game, while also giving quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele better protection.
The key to Texas’ entire season really lies in a four-week stretch starting Sept. 15: USC, TCU, at Kansas State and Oklahoma in Dallas. (The Longhorns shouldn’t sleep on Baylor a week after OU, either.) Aside from winning those games, UT a month like that can test a team’s depth. The ‘Horns really can’t afford to go too far down the depth chart at certain spots.
By the end of the season, the Longhorns will have improved over last season. That will set the stage for a true referendum year for Herman and the program in 2019.