Saturday’s game represents the dawn of a new era for Texas.
A much-needed, long-overdue era since the Longhorns haven’t won a bowl game since the 2012 Alamo Bowl. Consider that of the other nine Big 12 teams, seven of them have 12 bowl victories since Texas’ last, when the Horns barely clipped Oregon State at the Alamodome.
Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Kansas State and Baylor each have two post-season wins since the Longhorns last had a bowl victory. Only Kansas and Iowa State don’t have a bowl win since Texas’ last. Of course, Kansas, if memory serves, has a fairly significant win it can hang its hat on.
By the time the end of the 2017 bowl season rolls around, Texas will have gotten closer to becoming Texas again. Book it. After incredibly four losing seasons in the last seven years, the Longhorns are on the rebound. Seriously.
Tom Herman’s the real deal, and it won’t surprise me in the least if Texas climbs into the CFP by 2019 and wins it in 2020. And in Herman’s eyes, that may be a little late.
With the Longhorns’ season set to open against an unpredictable, run-heavy Maryland team on Saturday, it’s time for my annual foray into the world of guesswork.
Here’s what you can reasonably expect to happen.
Shane Buechele will start seven games, and Sam Ehlinger will start five. Which seven and which five, you ask? I would assume the first seven and the last five.
When Herman’s players didn’t vote Buechele as one of their four team captains and instead chose three defensive players along with left tackle Connor Williams, that spoke volumes. Their level of trust in the sophomore starter remains questionable, and it wouldn’t surprise if lapses by Buechele force Herman and offensive coordinator Tim Beck to turn to the precocious, ultra-confident Ehlinger at some point.
There’s little doubt Buechele is on a short leash although Beck said on Wednesday night, “I don’t know that he’s on any leash. He’s our starting quarterback.”
Herman said the same on Monday, but said Buechele is his starting quarterback “today.” Very cryptic. Herman can be very tough on quarterbacks but then he’s used to Greg Ward Jr., J.T. Barrett, Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones.
In my opinion, there’s not that much to lose in sharing the position until the ultimate survivor and biggest winner wins out and earns the job on the field. Some may consider it a fragile situation, but there are even rumors that Nick Saban is toying with the idea of playing a lot freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa even though sophomore Jalen Hurts took the Crimson Tide to within one second of a repeat national championship.
So Buechele starts seven games — pretty much a crapshoot — and throws for 1,765 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. Ehlinger throws for 1,334 yards, 11 touchdowns and six picks and rushes for six more scores. Call it nothing more than a gut feel. But Texas can win with either. Buechele’s very accurate, and the rah-rah Ehlinger’s very, well, Tebow-ish.
Collin Johnson reigns as the wide receiver supreme, wins All-Big 12 honors with 65 catches for 1,173 yards and 11 touchdowns. Dorian Leonard has a solid final season with 53 receptions for 758 yards and five scores. Reggie Hemphill-Mapps catches 32 balls for 422 yards and three touchdowns, Devin Duvernay grabs 28 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns, Jerrod Heard catches 18 balls for 276 yards and scores twice, and Armanti Foreman plays little as the odd man out.
Duvernay returns one kickoff for a touchdown, and Hemphill-Mapps run backs one punt for a score.
Running backs coach Stan Drayton juggles ball-carrying duties among whoever can stay in one piece and will frequently play two backs in the backfield. Kyle Porter leads the way with 852 yards and eight touchdowns while Chris Warren III stays upright long enough to run for 716 yards and five scores before going down with the chicken pox.
Toneil Carter makes his biggest impact as a receiver out of the backfield with 22 catches while Daniel Young produces 258 yards between the tackles as the rugged back of the future. Kirk Johnson adds 189 yards.
Left tackle Connor Williams earns first-team All-American honors for the second consecutive year and allows just two sacks all year. Zach Shackelford gets named second-team All-Big 12 at center. True freshman Derek Kerstetter continues to improve and finds playing time at right tackle, the weakest spot in an otherwise very strong offensive line.
The much-maligned tight end position produces 24 catches and 213 yards and three scores, split equally among Garrett Gray, Reese Leitao and Cade Brewer.
Poona Ford has twice as many tackles for losses (12) as words spoken (6) and makes first-team All-Big 12 with a consistent push from inside. Defensive end Malcolm Roach gets eight sacks and Charles Omenihu gets five. Rover Malik Jefferson finally lives up to his billing, sacking opposing quarterback 11 times and making All-Big 12 and some All-American teams. Junior-college transfer Gary Johnson flashes in a big way and gets six sacks and some of the biggest hits of the year.
The secondary accounts for 12 interceptions, paced by DeShon Elliott’s five picks. Kris Boyd is named first-team all-conference as a lockdown corner.
Michael Dickson averages 47 yards a punt, nails 23 inside the 20-yard line and gets one blocked.
New kicker Joshua Rowland hits 16 of 23 field goal attempts, misses one key field goal try in a stinging loss but makes another to cement a win.
The special teams players of the year will be Antwuan Davis and Marquez Bimage.
Freshmen will contribute in a huge way and make their presence felt. As many as four could start by the end of the year. Besides the play of Ehlinger, the best performances by freshmen will be Nacogdoches cornerback Josh Thompson followed by Temple defensive end Ta’Quon Graham.
Herman gets flagged at least once for unsportsmanlike conduct for walking too far onto the field.
Longhorn Nation becomes euphoric about a bowl game and thinks Herman can walk on water.
Texas upsets USC to climb into the top 10, but loses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU to finish 9-3 and go to the Liberty Bowl to play LSU.
It’s a start.