Another season has come and gone for Texas — the second in a row without a bowl game and third in a row without a winning record — and American-Statesman columnists Kirk Bohls and Cedric Golden weigh in on where the Longhorns are and where they’re going:
1. WHAT WILL TEXAS’ REGULAR-SEASON RECORD BE IN 2017?
Bohls: Texas could well be overmatched against USC and Oklahoma and will have to go to West Virginia and always dangerous Iowa State, but I can sure see the Longhorns going 9-3 in Tom Herman’s first season and even approach Charlie Strong’s guarantee of 10 wins.
Golden: Herman will come in and improve the bottom line, and Strong won’t get the credit he probably deserves for developing some young talent. The Horns will go 8-4 and end their three-year drought of nonwinning seasons.
2. WHO’LL FILL HIS STAFF FIRST — TOM HERMAN OR DONALD TRUMP?
Bohls: Herman will have his long before Christmas, but Houston’s search for his replacement complicates matters since both of his former coordinators, Major Applewhite and Todd Orlando, are in the mix. However, I think UH wants a splashier hire, so both coordinators could wind up in Austin.
Golden: Herman. He’ll fill his staff right after Houston’s bowl game, beating The Donald by a few weeks. He’s probably waiting on UH administrators to name a head coach before he considers adding one or both of his former coordinators.
3. BESIDES THE LOSSES, WHAT WAS CHARLIE STRONG’S BIGGEST REGRET?
Bohls: Not being given the blank check by then-athletic director Steve Patterson at the outset. If he had, Charlie could have hired the offensive coordinator he wanted — then-Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris or current Dallas Cowboys coordinator Scott Linehan. (I’ve been told he desired Herman as well, but Herman has told me he wasn’t going to leave Ohio State for another coordinator’s position.) Had Strong landed Morris, it probably would have jump-started the offense and aided the recruiting process for quarterbacks. Instead, Charlie brought in Shawn Watson as play-caller instead of quarterbacks coach and paid the price, demoting him just 14 games into his Texas tenure.
Golden: He didn’t always have his guys ready to compete. Charlie never got the best out of his players in big road games. His tenure will most be remembered for roadkill efforts in Ames, Iowa; Fort Worth; and, most tragically, Lawrence, Kan.
4. HOW (OR WHERE) WILL CHARLIE STRONG SPEND THE 2017 SEASON?
Bohls: If he’s smart, it’ll be at some fishing hole. Charlie should be as selective as possible and not just take the first available option, but he’s a total football junkie and might not be able to stand being away from it for a full season, because he won’t be in the TV booth. He’ll get another head coaching opportunity, maybe somewhere like Central Florida or Virginia Tech if Scott Frost and Justin Fuente move on to bigger jobs.
Golden: In the lap of luxury with that fat buyout. I really don’t see him coaching next season because to do so might cost him money. He’ll spend it somewhere outside of Austin recharging his battery for the next challenge, which I can see happening in 2018.
5. SHOULD 5-7 TEXAS ACCEPT A BOWL BID THIS SEASON — IF IT GETS ONE?
Bohls: Absolutely not. It makes zero sense. The team is mentally a wreck. What assistants would coach the players? Herman doesn’t even know their names. There’s precious little to gain other than the extra practices, but Herman would be better served by recruiting hard and arranging his staff. A bowl loss would kill some of the buzz.
Golden: Absolutely not. Hasn’t 2016 been brutal enough? Herman wants no part of a team that rarely stepped up to the plate in Strong’s last season, and no team that loses to Kansas should be allowed anywhere near a bowl game.
6. OUTSIDE OF QUARTERBACK, WHICH PLAYER MAKES THE BIGGEST STEP NEXT YEAR?
Bohls: Defensive end Malcolm Roach could emerge as a huge playmaker and become the main disruptive force on the defense. Next would be wide receiver Collin Johnson or defensive lineman Jordan Elliott.
Golden: Collin Johnson showed flashes of being a big-play receiver his freshman season and will continue to surge forward. He has the body, hands and just enough speed to be a matchup nightmare in a wide-open offense.
7. WHAT’S THE BEST NFL LANDING SPOT FOR D’ONTA FOREMAN?
Bohls: A strong class for running backs this year hurts Foreman slightly because Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Nick Chubb could all go ahead of him. I’ll say the Green Bay Packers take him in the second round, but keep an eye out for Philadelphia, Carolina and Minnesota. He’d be a perfect cold-weather back with his style, though the fumbling issues could hurt him.
Golden: He’ll go in the late second or early third round. The Seattle Seahawks are the perfect team for him because he has a skill set similar to Marshawn Lynch. Beast Mode II would play well in the Pacific Northwest.
8. WHAT’S THE BIGGEST PROBLEM SPOT FOR TEXAS NEXT YEAR?
Bohls: Cornerback. The Longhorns have a good one in Kris Boyd, and John Bonney improved greatly, but they don’t have that game-changing, lockdown corner to take away the opponent’s best wide receiver.
Golden: The return game. When’s the last time the Longhorns made a big play on a kickoff or punt return? That’s especially true on kickoffs, where they rarely started a drive at their own 25-yard line or better. They need some playmakers outside of excellent punter Michael Dickson to have an impact on field position.
9. CAN TEXAS BEAT USC NEXT SEPTEMBER?
Bohls: UT can, but it’s not likely. The Trojans are ending this season on the rise as perhaps the most improved team in college football since September, winning eight straight games after a 1-3 start. I’m betting USC opens as a preseason Top 10 team with third-year sophomore-to-be Sam Darnold, who’s a poised, mobile quarterback, even if the Trojans lose receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and cornerback/kick returner Adoree’ Jackson to the NFL.
Golden: I doubt it, since that game will be in California. The Horns will be competitive, but the Trojans are bringing back some nice pieces on both sides of the ball, especially Darnold, who just had a freshman All-American type of season.
10. SHOULD TOM HERMAN HAVE RETAINED ANY CHARLIE STRONG ASSISTANTS?
Bohls: He still could but probably won’t. Jeff Traylor would have been a nice one to keep because of his Texas high school connections, but it seems Herman wanted to cut the cord entirely, which is understandable.
Golden: I don’t think so, even though Traylor would have been an asset in recruiting. The Strong era was not a successful one, so I understand Herman wanting to wipe the slate clean.