Steve Sarkisian needed the offseason of all offseasons to help move on from Year 1. The 2021 season saw a 4–1 start derailed by three straight losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor — after Texas held third-quarter, double-digit leads in each game — and then dissolved into a 5–7 finish that included a home loss to two-win Kansas and the program's longest losing streak (six games) since 1956.
Sarkisian got the offseason he needed. Texas landed a top-five recruiting class loaded with offensive and defensive linemen, and he nabbed Ohio State transfer quarterback Quinn Ewers, the nation's highest-rated recruit in 2021, according to the 247Sports Composite ranking.
Sarkisian also beefed up his staff by bringing in former TCU head coach Gary Patterson as a special assistant while adding high-energy up-and-comers — running backs coach Tashard Choice from Georgia Tech and receivers coach Brennan Marion from Pittsburgh, where he coached 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison.
Sarkisian will need all the reinforcements he can get with a 2022 non-conference schedule that includes a home game against Alabama on Sept. 10.
Previewing Texas' Offense for 2022
The offense was the strength of the team last season but will have a new starting quarterback after Casey Thompson, who started 10 games in 2021 and led the Big 12 in TD passes (24), transferred to Nebraska.
Sarkisian will now decide between Ewers and redshirt sophomore Hudson Card. Card started the first two games in 2021, completing 61.4 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and one interception, but he lacked pocket presence before being replaced by Thompson. Ewers is UT's highest-rated recruit since Vince Young (in 2002) but hasn't started a football game since he helped Southlake Carroll reach the 2020 Texas 6A state championship. Ewers graduated early from high school, reclassified and enrolled at Ohio State in the fall of 2021, taking two regular-season snaps — both handoffs.
The offense has proven weapons, led by junior running back Bijan Robinson, who ran for 1,127 yards (5.8 ypc) and 11 TDs and was the Longhorns' third-leading receiver in 2021 (26 catches for 295 yards and four TDs).
Texas has a clear top three at receiver, led by sophomore speedster Xavier Worthy, who caught a UT freshman-record 12 touchdowns last season; junior Jordan Whittington, the team's most productive third-down receiver last season despite missing four games with a broken clavicle; and 6'3" Wyoming transfer Isaiah Neyor, a junior who also caught 12 TDs last season.
At tight end, Alabama senior transfer Jahleel Billingsley brings experience to a position that will rely heavily on two sophomores in Ja'Tavion Sanders and Gunnar Helm who have never started a college game.
The offensive line returns starters Junior Angilau at guard, Jake Majors at center and Christian Jones at tackle. But seven talented freshmen are fighting for jobs, including two of the nation's top recruits in five-stars Devon Campbell and Kelvin Banks Jr.
Previewing Texas' Defense for 2022
You name it and last year's Texas defense struggled with it, giving up 31.1 points and 201.6 rushing yards (5.2 yards per carry) per game while failing to muster a pass rush.
Second-year defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski has been picking the brain of new special assistant Patterson. The hope is that a deep defensive line combined with super senior weakside linebacker DeMarvion Overshown and the emergence of junior middle linebacker Jaylan Ford, who was the team's third-leading tackler last season despite making only two starts, will fortify UT's defensive front. The Longhorns also added James Madison transfer Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey to the linebacker unit after spring practice.
In the secondary, there are a lot of new faces in new places, starting with 6'3" Ohio State junior transfer cornerback Ryan Watts, who seemed to lock down the starting boundary corner position in the spring opposite super senior field corner D'Shawn Jamison.
At safety, Texas has a melting pot of players who changed positions, led by Anthony Cook, who started at nickel last year; junior Kitan Crawford, who moved from cornerback; and sophomore Morice Blackwell, who moved from linebacker. They join junior Jerrin Thompson, who started five games as the field safety last season and should see time at nickel back.
Related: Big 12 Predictions for 2022
Previewing Texas' Specialists for 2022
Texas must replace first-team All-Big 12 punter Cameron Dicker, who also finished his four-year career as UT's all-time points leader among field-goal kickers. The Longhorns' latest Pro Kick Australia import — Isaac Pearson — is expected to handle the punting, while field goals and kickoffs will come down to a battle between walk-ons Gabriel Lozano and Bert Auburn and scholarship freshman Will Stone. Jamison has returned two kicks and one punt for TDs at Texas and ranks fourth all-time at UT in kick return yards.
Texas has turned over one third of its roster and has to improve in a lot of areas — offensive line, quarterback and everywhere on defense — while also finding a replacement for do-it-all kicker and punter Dicker. It's obvious from Texas' inability to hold double-digit, third-quarter leads against OU, Oklahoma State and Baylor last year (before suffering an embarrassing home loss to lowly Kansas) that Sarkisian's program didn't know how to finish games in 2021.
Facing Alabama after opening at home against ULM will either show how much progress Texas has made following its big offseason or will expose how big of a rebuild Sarkisian has in front of him.
National Ranking: 29
Podcast: Complete Breakdown of the Big 12 for 2022 + Predictions and Rankings