Texas running back Roschon Johnson runs out with the American flag prior to last year’s regular-season finale against Texas Tech. The Longhorns open up their 2020 season Saturday night at home against UTEP. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: My Texas predictions? Cosmi, Ossai pace the Longhorns to … another Alamo Bowl

Posted September 10th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • Here’s betting Ehlinger runs less with a much better backfield in support of him and breaks several of his own records. He’ll throw more and run less. He will not threaten Colt McCoy’s single-season record of 3,859 yards but will pass for 3,238 yards in a 10-game schedule with 26 scores and six picks.
  • The two most productive receivers will be Jake Smith, despite his ailing but not serious hamstring strain, and — drum roll, please — Jordan Whittington.
  • My pick for a breakout season is the athletic, high-energy Spur defensive back Chris Adimora.

Kickoff is Saturday night, and admit it. It’s easier to project President Trump’s next tweet than the results of this Texas football season.

It’s doubtful there has ever been a preseason camp so filled with unknowns and uncertainty. We didn’t see a single spring practice because there was none. We didn’t see a single preseason practice. We talked to five Longhorns players for the first time on Tuesday.

So proceed with caution.

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This team should be the best so far in Tom Herman’s four years. But we’re not sure if this team could be just Sam Ehlinger and 84 other guys. Or Herman could make hay with all those elite recruits and crash the CFP party. Or it could be a year when a 12-game schedule was reduced to 10 games and could well conclude with only six that are actually played. Or fewer.

Expect the weird.

That said, we soldier on, knowing you’ll need some levity in December when we review these early September UT season prognostications.

Onward, we go.

Ehlinger is poised to have his best season as a Longhorn and should after starting 26 games and leading Texas to three bowl victories over CFP contenders Utah and Georgia and — after coming off the bench behind Shane Buechele — Missouri. 

Here’s betting Ehlinger runs less with a much better backfield in support of him and breaks several of his own records. He’ll throw more and run less. He will not threaten Colt McCoy’s single-season record of 3,859 yards but will pass for 3,238 yards in a 10-game schedule with 26 scores and six picks. He’ll run for 378 yards and six scores. He will get invited to New York City and finish third in the Heisman race.

Texas wide receiver Brennan Eagles tries to complete a pass over Kansas State defensive back Denzel Goolsby during last year’s game in Austin. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

Casey Thompson will get in six games, run for 86 yards and throw for 287 yards and three TDs. Third-stringer Hudson Card will get in one game and throw three passes.

The two most productive receivers will be Jake Smith, despite his ailing but not serious hamstring strain, and — drum roll, please — Jordan Whittington. They will emerge as the two feature receivers with Brennan Eagles still too inconsistent. Put Tarik Black, a Michigan transfer, down for 52 passes for 579 yards and five scores. Smith, playing out of the slot, will gobble up 69 receptions for 875 yards and seven touchdowns. Whittington will finally stay on the field and have 62 catches for 624 yards and five scores and also run for 212 yards and two touchdowns.

Eagles will make some spectacular catches, but also drop some routine ones. He’ll finish with 58 receptions for 652 yards and reach the end zone five times.

Texas will rediscover the tight end as a legal weapon, and Cade Brewer will finally give Ehlinger another threat with 34 catches for 418 yards and three scores.

The backfield will be formidable and the best in the Big 12. Roschon Johnson and Keaontay Ingram will split carries while freshman Bijan Robinson gradually comes along. Johnson and Ingram will each have three 100-yard games, and Robinson one. Johnson will lead the way with 742 yards and eight scores, followed by Ingram with 569 yards and six touchdowns. Robinson will have some dazzling runs and produce two long-distance touchdown bursts of more than 50 yards. He’ll finish with 451 yards and five scores.

Samuel Cosmi will anchor the offensive line at left tackle, become a consensus All-American and allow only one sack all season. He ran for a touchdown against West Virginia and will catch a pop pass for a score this year. He will win the Outland Trophy. The right side of the line will have its share of issues with Denzel Okafor and Christian Jones starting with a big rotation.

The much-scrutinized defensive line will have more eyes on it than “Tiger King” did during the pandemic. A front that produced just 27 sacks a year ago will be able to provide a rush without blitzing for once and contribute 32 sacks.

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts controls the ball behind his back as Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai tries to force a fumble during last year’s Red River Showdown game at the Cotton Bowl. Ossai is moving from linebacker to a hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot that Texas is calling the Jack. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

The most intriguing player on the roster could be Reese Leitao, a junior who spent two years in anonymity as the backup backup tight end and who now backs up maybe the best player on the team, Joseph Ossai. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash gets higher marks over predecessor Todd Orlando by leaving the explosive Ossai at defensive end, where interim DC Craig Naivar put him for his spectacular Alamo Bowl performance. Ash called Leitao “one of the surprise guys on defense.”

I’ll give Ossai double-digit sacks, an eye-popping 15 on the year. He’ll also be the team’s leading tackler with 76 stops.

Ash and Herman can’t stop bragging on the defensive line. Nose tackle Keondre Coburn continues as the anchor of that front and will be Poona Ford 2.0. Oscar Giles will have a revolving door in that line, but it’s time for defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham to show up in a bigger way and hold the point of attack.

Keep an eye out for rookies Alfred Collins and Vernon Broughton. The 6-5, 305-pound Collins appears ahead of Broughton, but both will have instant impacts as freshmen. Collins will have 22 tackles, four for losses.

Texas defensive back Chris Adimora breaks up the pass intended for Utah wide receiver Samson Nacua during the Longhorns’ Alamo Bowl win. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

Linebacker scares me, and it scares the coaching staff, too, because it’s the thinnest position on the team. Weakside linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, as physical a player as there is, has moved there from the secondary, and Juwan Mitchell should have a strong year. So should former walk-on Cort Jaquess.

My pick for a breakout season is the athletic, high-energy Spur defensive back Chris Adimora, who also timed his arrival with the dominant win over Utah. He’ll be everywhere as the best defensive back on the team and make 38 tackles with two picks and four sacks.

Caden Sterns will show up big-time and lead a talented secondary from his free safety position. He’s still bummed by the third-and-17 disaster that was last year’s LSU game and will atone with an All-Big 12 season with 64 tackles and three interceptions.

Ossai and Cosmi will both be consensus All-Americans. Collins will make the All-Freshman Team.

Other All-Big 12 players will be Ehlinger, Brewer, Whittington, Sterns and Brown.

Special teams will take a big step up with the addition of former Longhorn Jay Boulware. The defense will have 12 interceptions and return two for scores.

Chris Brown brings veteran savvy to the strong safety position and is the heart and soul of the defense, and cornerback D’Shawn Jamison will have a huge role on this team in that role as well as the All-Big 12 kick returner and punt returner. He’ll have a touchdown return on a kickoff and a punt and will electrify the crowd.

Cameron Dicker will find the camera more than any other Longhorn in between his 17 field goals in 22 tries and two successful 50-yard plus kicks. Yes, he’ll have another game-winner and wink at his fans. Ryan Bujcevski must become more consistent. He’ll average 41 yards a punt.

Texas will start with a flourish and pound UTEP 55-10 on Saturday night. The Horns will beat Oklahoma and TCU but lose to Oklahoma State and Iowa State to finish 8-2. Texas will return to the Alamo Bowl and paste Auburn since, well, there’s no Pac-12 opponent available and Herman does not lose bowl games.

The 9-1 Cyclones will break OU’s five-year stranglehold on the championship and then beat OSU in the title game but go to the Cotton Bowl outside the CFP.

Hey, it’s 2020, which means Hudson Card could start every game and Alfred Collins is Texas’ best player. Expect the bizarre.

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