A handful of developments in the last year have Texas trending up in Year 3 under Tom Herman: 1) A thrilling, 48–45 victory over Oklahoma last October; 2) reaching the Big 12 title game (where the Longhorns lost a rematch against the Sooners); 3) a dominating victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl; and 4) back-to-back top-three recruiting classes.
Whether the Longhorns can improve on last year's 10–4 record in 2019 — with a schedule that includes a Week 2 home game against LSU — will depend on two things: If junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger can match or improve on last season's performance behind a line with three new starters; and if the Horns can adequately replace nine starters on defense.
Previewing Texas' Offense for 2019
Ehlinger, whose 41 touchdowns accounted for in 2018 were second in school history to Colt McCoy's 45 TDs in 2008, is the unquestioned leader of the offense and a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender.
Ideally, a one-two running back punch of sophomore Keaontay Ingram and early enrollee freshman Jordan Whittington will help reduce some of Ehlinger's rock 'em, sock 'em rushing attempts.
Ehlinger was forced out of last year's Baylor and Iowa State games with injuries to his throwing shoulder suffered while running the ball. Texas won those games thanks to the solid play of backup Shane Buechele, who had 19 starts at UT but graduated in May and transferred to SMU with two seasons of eligibility remaining. Redshirt freshman quarterback Cameron Rising also transferred (to Utah).
Backing up Ehlinger this season will be dual-threat redshirt freshman Casey Thompson, the son of former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson, and early enrollee freshman Roschon Johnson. Coaches are excited about Thompson's upside.
Even though last year's leading receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey entered the NFL Draft after his junior season, Texas still has senior receivers Collin Johnson, a 6-foot-6 matchup problem, and Devin Duvernay, an underutilized speedster, as well as freshman Jake Smith.
On the offensive line, Samuel Cosmi moves from right tackle to left tackle, while senior Zach Shackelford returns at center. There will be three new starters on the line. The question is if Georgia Tech graduate transfer left guard Parker Braun, a first-team All-ACC selection last season, is one of them. Braun has expressed a desire to redshirt this season to work on his strength and pass protection while also completing his MBA at Texas' McCombs School of Business. If Braun redshirts, the new starters on the line are likely to be redshirt freshman Junior Angilau at left guard, junior Derek Kerstetter at right guard and junior Denzel Okafor at right tackle.
Previewing Texas' Defense for 2019
Todd Orlando's defense took a step back against the run and on third down in 2018 after leading the nation in non-offensive TDs (seven) in 2017. And now he has to replace nine starters, including his entire front seven and both starting cornerbacks.
The strength of the defense is at safety, where senior Brandon Jones and 2018 Freshman All-American Caden Sterns are the only two returning starters. There is high-level depth at safety thanks to sophomore DeMarvion Overshown. Nickel back B.J. Foster showed he was a star-in-the-making as a true freshman last season.
There's experience returning on the line, led by ends Malcolm Roach, a senior, and Ta'Quon Graham, a junior. Redshirt freshman nose tackle Keondre Coburn is a player to watch.
There's inexperienced talent at linebacker in Joseph Ossai (B-backer), Jeffrey McCulloch (Rover) and Ayodele Adeoye (Mike) as well as at cornerback with Jalen Green, D’Shawn Jamison and Anthony Cook battling it out. Now the question is: How will all those new faces mesh together?
Previewing Texas' Specialists for 2019
Sophomore kicker Cameron Dicker is already a star thanks to his game-winning 40-yard field goal with :09 left in UT's 48–45 win over Oklahoma. Punter Ryan Bujcevski, the Australian cousin of Texas' 2017 Ray Guy Award winner and Seahawks Pro Bowler Michael Dickson, needs to become more consistent. Jamison returned a punt for a TD last season at Kansas State.
The hope is Ehlinger's continued maturity in the offense will lead to more explosive plays in the passing game. Last season, Texas was one of just three FBS schools not to have an offensive touchdown of at least 50 yards.
Texas has plenty of talent on defense, especially at safety. Now that talent just needs to gain experience, most notably at linebacker and cornerback. If Texas can stay healthy to help mask some depth issues, and if the defense improves at the rate the offense improved last season, UT could possibly match or improve on last year's 10-win total.
After last year's loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, Ehlinger made a Tim Tebow-like pledge to do everything in his power to get Texas back to the conference title game and leave with a victory so fans "would never feel this way again."
Four-time defending Big 12 champ OU figures to be the league favorite again. But as Texas showed last season, the Longhorns are closing the gap.