Texas season preview: Best and worst-case scenario

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 24: Head coach Tom Herman of the Texas Longhorns watches players warm up before the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 24, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 24: Head coach Tom Herman of the Texas Longhorns watches players warm up before the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 24, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Texas football returns for another season under Tom Herman, but can they exceed last year’s record?

Tom Herman took the reins as Texas football’s head coach for the 2017 season and brought them to their first bowl game in three years, with the defeat of Missouri in the Texas Bowl. This finished the Longhorns record at 7-6; not a dramatic improvement over former head coach Charlie Strong, but the arrow still points in the right direction.

Texas never found proper footing in the Big 12, but still finished fourth in the conference. Through injuries and a young roster, it was a struggle for them offensively. Defensively, though, the Todd Orlando-led group found ways to control the potent Oklahoma State and USC attacks, despite both resulting in overtime losses.

With those two extra-time downfalls, Texas could have easily reached a 9-4 record and celebrated a successful season. With 2018 ahead, they will try to reach this and find some clarity across the roster.

Texas lost four players to the 2018 NFL Draft: Connor Williams, Malik Jefferson, Michael Dickson and DeShon Elliott. Others did not hear their name called, including Armanti Foreman, Poona Ford and Chris Warren III.

Williams, formerly the starting left tackle, missed most of the 2017 season with injuries. Replacing an All-America is still difficult, but it won’t be new. Look for Calvin Anderson and Denzel Okafor to receive playing time at this spot.

Jefferson is the other marquee name and acted as a defensive anchor for the Longhorns. Junior Malcolm Roach should be among the group that fills in for him while looking to improve on 33 total tackles last season.

Skill position-wise, fans will notice the absence of Warren III, who flashed talent in his three seasons but often dealt with injuries. His departure will clear up the running back position, but that does not mean it’s clear-cut.

Sophomores Daniel Young and Toneil Carter and junior Kyle Porter will battle for touches at running back. Each of them had at least 250 yards rushing in 2017, but none of them crossed 400. To find consistency, Herman may need to focus on one or two players and let the running game flesh itself out.

Quarterback remains a question for Texas for the second consecutive year. Due to injuries to both players, Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger did not establish themselves as the clear-cut starter. Both crossed 1,250 yards passing and had more touchdowns than interceptions. Like the running back position, it would be a positive for Herman to find a steady presence and roll with him.

Along with Buechele and Ehlinger, Texas brought in Casey Thompson and Cameron Rising, so if either of the incumbents’ struggles, there are highly rated backups behind them. The pressure should be there to perform, but will the staff allow one player to see the field?

Texas’ non-conference schedule looks awfully similar to the 2017 season, as Maryland and USC are the first and third games of the 2018 campaign, respectively. This time, the Burnt Orange will try to avenge the season-opening loss that happened one year ago, but on the road. The USC game, however, will be at home.

Texas Schedule

  • Saturday, Sept. 1 at Maryland
  • Saturday, Sept. 8 vs. Tulsa
  • Saturday, Sept. 15 vs. USC
  • Saturday, Sept. 22 vs. TCU
  • Saturday, Sept. 29 at Kansas State
  • Saturday, Oct. 6 vs. Oklahoma
  • Saturday, Oct. 13 vs. Baylor
  • Saturday, Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
  • Saturday, Nov. 3 vs. Virginia Tech
  • Saturday, Nov. 10 at Texas Tech
  • Saturday, Nov. 17 vs. Iowa State
  • Friday, Nov. 23 at Kansas

Best-case scenario: (9-4) If Buechele, Ehlinger or one of the freshman take control at quarterback, however, then Texas could be an interesting team to watch in the Big 12. The same at running back and wide receiver, which also needs to establish itself early. And if the defense returns to prominence and single-handedly keeps the squad in some games, this has the chance to be a 9 or 10-win team, in a best-case scenario.

Worst-case scenario: (7-6) Texas may find trouble against the usual teams, including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU. The Virginia Tech game is not a sure thing, either. Baylor, Kansas and Tulsa should result in wins for the Longhorns. After that, it’s a toss-up with the rest of the schedule, potentially leading to another 7-6 season (with a bowl game). If the team had answers at their skill positions, it would provide more to be excited for, especially with a defense that should only improve from 2017’s success.

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Texas has a long road ahead in the 2018 season. The offense needs to figure out who they are, while the defense must pick up where it left off last winter. Doing so might make them a threat near the top of the Big 12.