For the second time in four years, Texas has a new coach and new excitement. Tom Herman jumped from Houston to Austin and now takes over the flagship university of the State. Will the Longhorns be better in 2017 or worse? Here's the argument for both.
Texas Will be better...
Because there is too much talent. The past four years Texas recruiting classes have ranked 31st, 11th, 12th, and 20th. Somehow the Longhorns have turned that into sixteen wins in three seasons. The Longhorn roster is just too talented to be worse in 2017. We think they'll be better, much better. For years now we've heard of this young team in Austin that will be handful when they grow up, well it's time. We're betting that Texas is ready to finally make the next step and compete for the Big 12.
The offensive line is really good. When you look at Texas' offensive line you see as many as three and maybe four NFL caliber contributors. Junior Connor Williams is 6-6, 288 pounds with 23 career starts under his belt. He is the dictionary definition of a left tackle in today's game. He was a freshman All-American and selected an All-American as a sophomore. He's just the fourth Texas sophomore selected to the All-American team. At his side is Patrick Vahe and his eighteen starts. Vahe was also selected a freshman All-America. At center Zach Shackelford has made nine starts at either guard or center and he's a mauler inside. If Brandon Hodges can get his academic issues in hand, Texas will have a valuable piece at right tackle. Last year the Longhorns used nine different starters up front, that experience should pay dividends next season. For years the Texas line has been style but no substance, in 2017 Texas will have a big, bruising, deep offensive front.
The Todd Orlando Effect. Wherever he's been, Todd Orlando has made an impact. At Houston in 2016 the Cougars were 13th in total defense. In 2015, the Cougars were a turnover forcing machine, causing a FBS best 35 that helped them win thirteen games. His attacking 3-4 brings pressure from every angle and every position. He'll have more talent at his disposal for Texas than at anytime in his coaching career. Malik Jefferson, Anthony Wheeler, Jeffrey McCullough, and Breckyn Hager, are talented and long, linebackers. Hager should be a weapon at outside linebacker where his tweener defensive end size shouldn't be as much of a factor. Orlando has discussed moving Hager inside, but his true value seems to be on the edge.
The secondary returns just about everyone including long rangy athletes like Kris Boyd, John Bonney, Holton Hill, Jason Hall, and Deshon Elliott. All those players are 6'0 or taller which is the new model for corners and safeties: tall, athletic, rangy. Malcolm Roach is a straight banger who moves to defensive end after eating his way out of linebacker. Poona Ford is wider than tall, and he may have a hard time holding up in an odd front, but one of an assortment of young defensive tackles, i.e. D'Andre Christmas or Chris Daniels should play larger roles. Assuming Orlando can work his usual magic, and nothing indicates he can't, the Longhorns will have an attacking, athletic, ball-hawking defensive unit.
Shane Buechele is the truth. Texas has its best quarterback since Colt McCoy and he's just a sophomore. Last year Shane Buechele exceeded expectations as a true freshman, this year he'll be better thanks to the overall talent around him including some incredibly gifted receivers and the aforementioned offensive front. Collin Johnson at receiver along with world class speedster John Burt can take the top off a defense and create matchup nightmares.
Concerns about Buechele's slight frame are still present, but what goes one between his ears and from his arm should give Tom Herman a lot of excitement.
The Longhorns will be worse...
Where has all the talent been? We just made the argument that there's too much talent, and in theory that's true but the question remains, why hasn't Texas made a breakthrough? There will not be an influx of incredible new talent this offseason, Texas has what it has. This is the same team that was allegedly playing for their coach's job in 2016 when they were blown out by TCU at home. This is the same team that somehow lost to Kansas on the road. This is the same team that couldn't defend the pass in 2016. All those guys are back in 2017, did they learn to defend the pass since November? It's the same team, just with new window dressing.
No D'Onta Foreman. D'Onta Foreman was the Texas offense in 2016. Certainly Shane Buechele was a competent quarterback, but Foreman carried the load. Almost 40% of the Texas offense came through him. When Tom Herman's Houston squad was at its best it was a power running team. In 2016 when Houston's rushing ability fell off dramatically, so did their win total. With Foreman gone that task now falls to unproven backs like Kyle Porter and injury prone players like Chris Warren. Texas is going to struggle to fill Foreman's massive shoes.
Scheme changes, always scheme changes. Texas has struggled to find schematic consistency. In year two Charlie Strong went from a West Coast, multiple offense to a zone read spread after the 2105 debacle in South Bend. Then in the offseason the Longhorns got rid of their offensive staff and brought in the Bear Raid offense. In two years the Longhorns went from recruiting and developing players from one end of the offensive spectrum to recruiting and developing players for a scheme on the opposite end of the spectrum. Now they implement another zone read scheme with Tim Beck and Tom Herman. On defense the Horns moved away from Vance Bedford last season and now onto Todd Orlando's 3-4 scheme. Texas doesn't have the foundation schematically to win at any significant level. Yet.