The Argument For Texas
Texas was the powerhouse of the Big 12 when Mac Brown was running the program last decade. The historic program fell apart but Tom Herman has brought Texas to the doorstep to relevancy. After the 2019 Sugar Bowl, where Texas shocked everyone by upsetting Georgia, Sam Ehlinger prominalty shouted “We’re Baaaack!!!”. The Longhorns weren’t back, they finished last season 8-5 and weren’t even the best team form Texas last season (Baylor had their return from sanctions Hell, credits to Matt Rhule). They finished the season by beating #11 Utah in the Alamo Bowl 31-10 and there’s plenty of optimism for the Hook ‘Em Horns faithful as this can be the year that Texas returns to relevancy. Last year, I was fooled by the hype so this year I’m a bit more cautious to hop on the bandwagon. Here are some of the things to consider when assessing Texas as a worthy contender for the Big 12 title, a possible spot in the playoff and even a possible National Championship run.
The first thing to consider when thinking of Texas is their rival Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Sooners have owned the Big 12 in recent years, winning the conference every year since 2015 and have made the College Football Playoff each of the past three seasons.
Oklahoma has more talent than anyone in the conference but if there is one team that can stop their streak it would be Texas. Texas has split the past two Red-River Rivalry games with Oklahoma including some close games (last year's game was the only one since 2013 to not be a one-score game). Texas has also been rolling in top recruiting classes with Oklahoma. What has kept the Sooners ahead of the Longhorns is their quarterback play and Lincoln Riley’s air-raid offense. Oklahoma can take a likely step back this year if both Freshmen Spencer Rattler or Tanner Mordechai aren’t ready for the big stage, the last three quarterbacks for the Sooners were not only all transfers but proven talented quarterbacks. After years of owning the conference, this can be the year that Texas knocks the Sooners off their pedestal the way LSU did to Alabama last year in the SEC.
Texas had everything go bad for them last season, 8-5 is a failure considering the talent on their roster. One can say that an early loss mentally ended their season. In their second game, they hosted the eventual National Champion LSU Tigers, they were one of the few teams that gave the Tigers a fight but in the end they lost by a touchdown (45-38). That loss set them back and when they lost to Oklahoma a few weeks later their season was over, with their hopes of making the playoff done after that, the Horns mentally gave up. This year will require Texas to gain the momentum early in the season for a championship run, they have a rematch against the LSU Tigers early on but if they can walk out of Death Valley with a victory, the path looks easy for the Longhorns. They will still have to beat Oklahoma but the conference doesn’t look much better from last year, if anything the Big 12 got worse.
With all this being said, these are logistical reasons for why Texas can be in the playoff. How does their roster look for the upcoming season? The biggest positive is the return of quarterback Sam Ehlinger, the most experienced quarterback in the conference and has shown much improvement since he first arrived in Texas. While Ehlinger has lost some of his favorite targets, help from the #6 recruiting class (according to 24/7 sports) is especially noticeable in the receiving corp. Ehlinger also doesn’t have to worry about being the leading rusher anymore with Keontay Ingram emerging as one of the best running backs in the nation.
Ehlinger is the quarterback of the offense but Caden Sterns is the best player on the Horns and the leader of a defense that looks to improve on last season's turnover (last season the Longhorns last a lot of seniors and the young defense struggled). The Texas defense gave up 27.5 points per game last season, ultimately forcing Tom Herman to hire a new defensive coordinator in Chris Ash. The defense should improve under the former Rutgers head coach and combine with Tom Herman’s offense, this could be the Longhorns year.
It’s easy to forget that Tom Herman was the offensive coordinator/QB coach for Ohio State when they won the National Championship in 2014. It’s also easy to forget that before coming to Texas, Herman went to the University of Houston and finished his first season with the program 13-1. Herman was hired by Texas to bring the Longhorns back to the years that they were the kings of Texas and owned the Big 12. This is a career defining year for the quarterback guru, with Oklahoma potentially taking a step back this year, this could be the year for Texas.