Today at No. 24: Texas
Coach: Tom Herman (0-0, entering first season; 22-4 overall)
2016 record: 5-7, 3-6 in the Big 12, seventh in the conference
Look back: Despite major changes to the coaching staff and the addition of a highly-touted quarterback, Texas continued its slide under Charlie Strong. The Longhorns opened the 2016 season by winning their first two games, including an overtime thriller over Notre Dame, but a three-game losing streak was too much for the program to overcome. The team finished with a losing record for the third consecutive season and Strong was fired.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 10
Key losses: RB D’Onta Foreman, QB Tyrone Swoopes, WR Jacorey Warrick, S Dylan Haines
Top returnees: QB Shane Buechele, RB Chris Warren, WR Armanti Foreman, OL Connor Williams, OL Patrick Vahe, DT Poona Ford, LB Anthony Wheeler
Strengths: The Texas offense lacked continuity during Strong’s tenure, in part, because of a lack of stability at the offensive coordinator position. Herman brings a new approach that should help add some stability, but nothing is a given in Austin. QB Shane Buechele completed 60 percent of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns, but the sophomore is battling impressive freshman Sam Ehlinger for the starting job.
“We’ve challenged him, we’ve taught him, we’ve explained things to him that for him to take the next step in his growth, one of those things is going to have to be to continue to lead the culture of the team,” Herman said of Buechele during Big 12 media days.
New defensive coordinator Todd Orlando joins Herman in Austin after spending the past two seasons at Houston, helping turn the Cougars into a top 20 defense in 2016. Orlando will have his work cut out for him at Texas, where the Longhorns are coming off their worst defensive season in more than two decades. The good news is the program returns 10 starters, including LB Anthony Wheeler.
Weaknesses: D’Onta Foreman won the Doak Walker Award, presented to the nation’s top running back, after rushing for 2,028 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. His early departure to the NFL leaves Texas in search of its next tailback. Chris Warren, who was second on the team in rushing with 366 yards, and Kyle Porter (205 yards) could share the duties until someone takes over the featured role.
The Longhorns allowed 64 total sacks during the past two seasons, the third-highest total in the Big 12.
Outlook: Herman was the most sought-after coach in the offseason, with both Texas and LSU battling for his services. In the end, the lure of returning at Austin where he started his coaching career as a graduate assistant was too much to pass up. The 42-year-old inherits an underachieving program that is in desperate need of a reboot.
“It’s our job to show them [recruits] what Texas is capable of, what Texas has been in the past and what we’re planning on being again in the future,” Herman said.