Texas Longhorns take the field against Baylor at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Football

Is Texas worthy of a Top 25 ranking? Here are reasons to believe.

Sure, we've been burned before. But maybe the Longhorns aren't that far away from turning this thing around.

Posted July 7th, 2017

Story highlights
  • Tom Herman won 22 games the last two years at Houston; Texas has lost 21 games over the past three years.
  • Shane Buechele was among the top-rated freshman quarterbacks in the country last season. He started all 12 games.
  • Buechele and whoever ends up running the ball will benefit from having All-American left tackle Connor Williams up front.

If you want to compare Texas’ football season to an all-you-can-eat buffet, you can currently find an endless supply of hope under one of the heating lamps. It’s over there, situated between the metaphorical salad bar and the meatloaf.

Texas — a team that won five only five games in 2016 … and in 2015 — is generating some offseason buzz as the national polls take shape. Some out there have gotten full on the hype.

But should you?

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Yes, you’ve been burned before. The Longhorns, after all, were ranked 11th in the country last September after beating Notre Dame to open the season, and then Charlie Strong lost his job less than three months later. There are reasons to believe, though, that this team will end up being among the nation’s best:

 

Texas Head Coach Tom Herman speaks during a press conference as he updates the local media about his coaching staff on Thursday, Jan 5, 2017. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Tom Herman has won elsewhere. Why not here?

Herman was named the 30th coach in Texas’ history in November. He arrives with an impressive résumé, having led Houston to a 22-4 record in his two seasons. That included a win over Florida State in a bowl game and an impressive win over Oklahoma last year. Herman also won a national championship as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator in 2014.

Herman has had the Midas touch with the teams he’s been associated with. In his second year at Ohio State, the Buckeyes produced the highest-scoring season in school history. When he moved over to Houston, the Cougars went from an 8-5 Armed Forces Bowl team in 2014 to a 13-1 Peach Bowl winner over the Seminoles in 2015.

Texas quarterback Shane Buechele (7) runs for the first down against the Texas defense during the Orange and white spring football game at the Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday, April 15, 2017 RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas has a quarterback. Probably.

Shane Buechele started all 12 games last year, passing for 21 touchdowns in the nation’s 50th-best passing offense as a freshman. His 2,958 passing yards broke Colt McCoy’s freshman school record.

Only two freshmen quarterbacks in the country (USC’s Sam Darnold and Florida State’s DeOndre Francois) threw for more yards, and only Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and Darnold threw for more touchdowns; Buechele ranked sixth nationally in passing efficiency among freshmen.

He became the fifth Longhorns quarterback to start at least 10 games as a freshman. Statistically, McCoy and Major Applewhite made solid strides their sophomore years. But injuries (and James Brown) stalled Shea Morenz’s second season and Jerrod Heard ended up switching positions.

Which camp will Buechele fall into?

We’ll find out after Herman names his starter. Buechele outplayed early enrollee Sam Ehlinger in the Orange-White game, but Herman has said he won’t announce his starter until later this summer. Ehlinger is a four-star prospect from Westlake who was the state’s top prep player in 2015.

University of Texas lineman Connor Williams warms up before the Longhorns game against Cal Sept. 19, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium in Austin, TX.

The line can block for whoever replaces D’Onta Foreman.

Foreman is now a Houston Texan and the Longhorns are short a 2,000-yard Doak Walker Award winner, but whoever’s in the backfield should have some holes to run through. Texas returns seven offensive linemen who have a combined 66 career starts. A good chunk of that experience rests on the left side of the line with All-American tackle Connor Williams’ 23 starts and guard Patrick Vahe’s 19.

Zach Shackelford, who started last year at center as a freshman, and versatile Jake McMillion also are back.

Questions, though, exist on the right side. Guard Kent Perkins is now playing for the Cincinnati Bengals and Brandon Hodges, who started nine games at right tackle, has announced his intention to transfer.

Texas kicker Trent Domingue hangs his head after another of his field goal attempts was blocked by OSU in the second quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Ok., on Saturday, October 01, 2016. Texas lost to OSU 49-31. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN STATESMAN

Eventually, Texas wins a close call or two. Right?

Texas suffered 21 losses in Charlie Strong’s three seasons. The Longhorns had a disappointing showing in close games; 10 of those 21 losses were by eight points or less, including five of them in 2016. Texas went just 6-10 in one-score games during Strong’s tenure.

Can coaching and a culture change help the Longhorns with those close calls? Maybe. But cutting down on the missed field goals and the inopportune turnovers is probably the better bet for Texas.

Texas fans cheer as their team takes the field against UTEP at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Texas essentially plays a home schedule.

The Longhorns’ schedule won’t be the toughest in recent memory, but it’s not soft. Texas’ 2017 opponents went a combined 83-69 last year. At one point this fall in a six-game stretch, the Longhorns will face five teams that won a bowl game last season.

Still, if there is any kind of advantage on the 2017 schedule, look at the team’s travel plans. Texas travels to California, Iowa and West Virginia, but those are the only times the Longhorns have to leave the state. Aside from the six home games at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Texas also has short road trips to Waco, Fort Worth and Dallas.

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